WGA Salvo Kicks Off Contract Talks

Jul 15, 2007  •  Post A Comment

After months of threats and recriminations, representatives of the Writers Guild of America and their network and studio employers will sit down today to commence negotiations on a new three-year contract.
At stake is not just the usual set of minimum pay standards for writers, but establishing a model for compensating creative talent in the new-media marketplace.
Feature film writers have been frustrated for decades about their compensation for home-video releases, a concern that in recent years spread to television writers as the popularity of collecting full seasons of programs on DVD has skyrocketed. Now looking at an explosion of new-media platforms and distribution, writers are determined to establish what they view as a fair model of compensation.
In addition, writers want to expand their union’s jurisdiction into animated and reality programming.
Networks and studios, meanwhile, have proposed scrapping the current system that pays writers, actors and directors residuals based on reuse of their works. The companies last week proposed launching a three-year study to determine the fairest way to pay talent. In the meantime, employers want to simply extend the WGA’s current contract.
“We don’t want to saddle a new industry with an extension of outmoded concepts … that were formulated at a different time,” Warner Bros. CEO Barry Meyer said last week.
The WGA has rejected the study proposal as a stalling tactic. Seeking to consolidate support from its members, the WGA mailed a bulletin to members emphasizing the profitability of media companies.
“With increased viewers and ad dollars on the Internet, we must secure our future,” wrote John Bowman, chairman of the WGA negotiating committee.
With eight charts showing rising entertainment revenue at media conglomerates Disney, CBS, Time Warner, Viacom, News Corp. and NBC Universal, the guild leadership is readying members for what could be a long slog at the negotiating table, and possibly a strike.
“As you can see … the companies can certainly afford to sit down with us at the bargaining table and treat writers like valued strategic partners,” Mr. Bowman wrote. “Instead, the public statements and histories of the [network and studio] representatives seem to indicate they won’t deal straight with us without a fight.”
The WGA’s “Contract Bulletin” newsletter was described as the first in a series of upcoming mailings to keep members informed of the leadership’s point of view during negotiations.
The portrayals of the entertainment employers’ financial status fits squarely into the guild’s strategy of showing that its contract demand for a share of new-media profits is reasonable.
“There is growth in almost every single measure of economic performance, including gross revenues in every segment, excellent operating profits and rising share prices for all six [major entertainment] companies,” wrote WGA chief negotiator David Young. “This is good news for writers and other members of the talent community.”

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