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May 4, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Deal reached with writers

Ending four days of marathon talks late Friday, negotiators for the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers reached a new three-year contact, averting an industrywide TV and film strike. Michael Mahern, co-chairman of the WGA’s negotiating committee, said the new contract would yield $41 million more in residual and minimum scale payments during the next three years.

The agreement, however, comes somewhat short of the $100 million-plus the writers union was seeking on residual payments and a restructuring of minimum scale payments, which were estimated to increase about 3.5 percent from the contract that expired May 1. Screenwriters were also expected to see slight increases in DVD and other home-video residuals.

One other key area of movement was an increase in the residual scale paid by the Fox Television Network. Fox is now paying 66 percent of what ABC, CBS and NBC pay and will move up over a gradual scale up to 100 percent after two years. Other details were sketchy, since the WGA and AMPTP had yet to release an official statement on points of the new deal late Friday.

Mr. Mahern, citing a previous quote from John Wells, president of the WGA and executive producer of NBC’s “The West Wing,” said, “There is something that would be disappointing” for most of the guild’s 11,500 members, who hoped for somewhat larger residual increases (both domestic and foreign). But the new deal would ultimately translate to gains on some financial and creative issues from the Hollywood studios and broadcast networks.

At one point of the hastily called news conference, Mr. Mahern looked to the AMPTP’s chief negotiator, Nick Counter, and said, “Now I can see the headlines: ‘Writers get everything and the studios go bankrupt,'” with many breaking out in laughter.

Both parties had come under intense lobbying pressure from Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan. The mayor’s office issued an economic impact study estimating that a TV and film shutdown would have cost more than 81,000 jobs and $6.9 billion in lost revenue in a six-month strike.

What remains to be seen is whether the WGA-AMPTP settlement sets a framework for upcoming contract negotiations the alliance faces with the Screens Actors Guild and American Federation of Radio and Television Artists, whose pacts are due to expire next June and November, respectively. The two actors unions, which worked collaboratively on the six-month-long commercials strike against advertisers, are said to be similarly intent on pushing for broad increases in minimum scale and residual payments.

Kantrowitz exits post at Warner Bros.: On the eve of the upfront, Julie Kantrowitz has stepped down as executive vice president of media sales at Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, the largest syndication advertising seller, Warner Bros. has confirmed. Paul Montoya, senior vice president of East Coast media sales, will take over for Ms. Kantrowitz on an interim basis.

Warner Bros. books about $500 million in annual sales, representing shows ranging from “Friends,” to “ER” to “The Drew Carey Show,” “The Rosie O’Donnell Show” and “Extra.”‘Survivor’ ends with a ratings bang: The 8 p.m.-to-10 p.m. (ET) Thursday finale of CBS’s “Survivor: The Australian Outback,” which crowned nurse Tina Wesson as the $1 million winner, scored a 19.8 rating/31 share average in households and 35.7 million total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research fast affiliate data. “Survivor II’s” household, total viewers and key-demo ratings were about double NBC’s “Must-See TV” comedies, which dropped to their lowest levels of the season.

“Survivor II’s” 15.6/38 average in the key adults 18 to 49 demo held a 116 percent ratings advantage over NBC’s comedy lineup (7.2/18), which nonetheless was down only 5 percent from last week’s average (7.6/20) in the frame. CBS more than doubled NBC’s household numbers (9.4/15) and was 151 percent ahead of NBC’s total viewer count of 14.2 million for the 8 p.m.-to-10 p.m. span.The stiff May sweeps competition against NBC’s “Must-See TV” lineup dropped “Survivor II’s” ratings by almost one-third from the original “Survivor’s” scores last summer. “Survivor II’s” household and total viewer counts are down 31 percent from the original “Survivor’s” 28.6/45 household average and 51.6 million total viewers for last summer’s two-hour finale Aug. 23.

It had also been announced that “Survivor III” competition will take in place in Africa, with “III’s” premiere next fall, presumably in the 8 p.m. Thursday slot again.

In adults 18 to 49, “Survivor II’s” ratings improved each half-hour, starting 8 p.m. with a 12.7/36 average and holding a 69 percent margin over NBC’s “Friends” (7.5/21), which was off only 5 percent from its previous week’s score (7.9/23). “Survivor II’s” 15.0/38 for the 8:30 p.m. frame grew 18 percent and held a 28 percent margin over a repeat of “Friends” (7.3/19), which nonetheless scored a 28 percent improvement over what “The Weber Show” scored (5.7/15) in the time period last week.

For the 9:30 p.m.-to-10 p.m. frame, “Survivor II” (16.5/39) moved up 10 percent in the demo from the previous half-hour and held a 113 percent margin in adults 18 to 49 over NBC’s “Will & Grace” (7.5/13), which was down13 percent week to week. “Survivor II” (18.4/41) increased 12 percent in the last half-hour and held a 188 percent margin over NBC’s “Just Shoot Me” (6.4/14). “Survivor II” also peaked at 22.3/33 household average and 40.7 million total viewers in the last half-hour.

In the 10 p.m.-to-11 p.m. block, in which CBS’s “Survivor: Reunion Show” faced off against NBC’s top-ranked “ER,” CBS held victory margins of 14 percent in households (16.3/25 vs. 14.7/23), 32 percent in total viewers (28.5 million vs. 21.6 million) and 29 percent in adults 18 to 49 (13.4/31 vs. 10.4/24). Compared with the original “Survivor’s” reunion show, the “Survivor II” wrap-up hosted by Bryant Gumbel was tracking 28 percent lower in households (22.5/36) and 26 percent lower in total viewers (38.7 million).

During the entire three hours of prime time, CBS’s 18.7/29 in households, 14.9/36 in adults 18 to 49 and 33.3 million total viewers beat NBC handily in all three categories (11.2/17, 8.3/20 and 16.7 million viewers). While it remains to be seen if “Survivor II”-driven CBS can finish the sweeps in a third- or fourth-place position in adults 18 to 49, the Eye Network was up 93 percent week to week in the key demo, in which it also realized 20 percent-plus increases in the sweeps to date.

Cable initiative: Cable Television Laboratories, the cable industry’s research and development consortium, is launching an initiative to help cable operators automate day-to-day business communication between themselves and Internet content providers. The CableB2B program deal with parts of this interface deliverable over the cable plant, through cable modems, advanced set-top boxes and other technologies. The first specification is scheduled for completion this fall.

Companies interested in participating in CableB2B should contact Perry O’Neil, at (303) 661-9100 or p.oneil@cablelabs.com.

(c) Copyright 2001 by Crain Communications