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iPod: TV’s Odyssey: Rights Issues Vex New-Era Talent Deals

Oct 9, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Any time a new market opens up, there’s going to be conflict between the talent and the suits.

As soon as Internet and mobile television ventures began to look as if they might generate revenue, all sides scrambled to expand their share of the riches.

The wrangling over new-media contracts is intensifying, with agencies, studios, guilds and networks trying to secure their share and set precedents for future negotiations.

Even a simple talent deal for a television show has become complicated: Should an actor be required to perform in Web episodes?

If so, are those webisodes a separate program (and therefore paid) or are they merely promotional (and therefore covered as part of an existing contract)? And if a full-length episode is sold to iTunes, are such royalties paid on a home-video pay rate or a pay-per-view rate?

“Anytime something can be monetized, anybody who has any stake in it is going to want to have a say,” said Bonnie Hammer, president of NBC Universal-owned USA and Sci Fi networks, which are currently facing a work stoppage among webisode showrunners on series such as “Battlestar Galactica” who are seeking higher pay. “Rights issues and creative credit issues abound for everyone right now.”

Some of the drama has been fueled by agencies and guilds still smarting over a home video agreement that mandates 80 percent of all home video revenue goes to studios and 20 percent to talent royalties.

That figure was originally calculated in the early 1980s, when the home video market was smaller and costs of production higher. In the new, digital world of television, conditions have changed: There’s no manufacturing cost to stream a show on the Web. There’s no packaging, no warehouses, no transportation costs and-potentially-no middlemen.

With new markets opening up, agents and guilds want to ensure they don’t get stuck with the short end of the deal this time.

Amid all the posturing, there’s very little income currently being generated in new media television, and widely conflicting opinions exist as to which new revenue model is going to succeed.

“Agents want to be very careful they don’t give away the store,” said Karen Stuart, executive director of the Association of Talent Agents, in a June TelevisionWeek story.

“You have all these major players cutting deals, yet we don’t know what these [business] models look like yet.”