In Depth

Writers End Strike Over Digital Future

Writers Guild of America members voted to end the 100-day strike that hobbled the broadcast television networks in a fight over how to split revenue from digital distribution of TV shows.

The Tuesday vote means writers can go back to work immediately. A vote is pending on the proposed three-year labor agreement that gives them 2% of distributors' gross sales for shows streamed on the Web.

"Rather than being shut out of the future of content creation and delivery, writers will lead the way as TV migrates to the Internet and platforms for new media are developed," Patric Verrone, president of the Writers Guild of America, West, said in a statement.

The membership ratification vote on the new contract will conclude Feb. 25. While some writers have criticized the deal as not securing a big enough share of the digital pie, the vast majority of WGA members voted to end the labor action that has stilled production on dozens of TV shows and put thousands of production workers out of jobs.

The strike centered on how writers would be paid for their work product that is distributed outside of traditional TV, including Web streaming. It came to symbolize the industry's struggle to adjust to new technologies that are disrupting the viewing habits—and business models—that TV networks have relied on for decades.

The work stoppage created hardships for writers as well as thousands of other production workers, and viewers continued their slow migration away from prime-time network television as programming lineups relied more heavily on reruns and reality shows.

The financial impact of the strike on media companies will be difficult to ascertain until they report earnings for the fourth quarter of 2007 and the first quarter of 2008.

The writers and media companies came to terms after the Directors Guild of America agreed to a proposal that gave them a cut of revenue from digital sales of shows. That deal formed the template for the writers' agreement.

The Writers Guild's leadership ended up withdrawing some of its early bargaining chips from the table, including an attempt to assert jurisdiction over reality and animation productions.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, who negotiated with the union on behalf of the media companies, won't have to share revenue with the writers until the third year of the proposed agreement.

"This is a day of relief and optimism for everyone in the industry," the AMPTP said in a statement signed by the top executives at the biggest media companies. "We can now all get back to work, with the assurance that we have concluded two groundbreaking labor agreements—with our directors and our writers—that establish a partnership through which our business can grow and prosper in the new digital age."