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To be fair, it appears that the writers made some strides in new media. They pushed up the studios' number on payments for downloads of their work. They made a deal to get paid for rentals over the Internet, which Apple is serving up soon. They established that they have some jurisdiction over material created specifically for the Internet. But in this and many other cases, there are all sorts of exceptions and caveats that Hollywoodland will never fully digest. So, while the writers certainly made gains, they can hardly claim a resounding victory.
Consider the supposed victory of wresting a percentage of ad revenue from the studios. That was a big deal in this negotiation. In the first two years (it's a three-year agreement), the deal gives writers a fixed payment—a few hundred bucks—when their work is streamed free over the Internet, such as when you watch an episode of The Office with commercials appended. But many writers felt that a crummy fixed payment was not good enough. So the guild announced that in the third year of the deal—ta-dum—the writer gets 2 percent of revenue from those ads. The Holy Grail!
Except the payment won't be based on the revenue from those ads. The deal makes an assumption: The revenue will be $40,000. So, the writer doesn't get a percentage of the actual gross but a percentage of a fixed amount—which turns out to be a crummy fixed payment of a few hundred bucks. And that wasn't supposed to be good enough.
It seems like sleight of hand to call this a "percentage of gross." But the Writers Guild leaders say that the notion of a percentage has at least been injected into the process and that $40,000 could actually turn out to be more than the studios get from those ads.
That may be, though it's also worth noting that in the long lists of exceptions and caveats, the studios get about three weeks to stream those television episodes before they have to pay anything at all—and doesn't it seem likely that most of the money generated from streaming those shows would come within a few days of the original broadcast?
So, that big win looks a bit chimerical. But the writers had to end the strike now or face the prospect of many more months of being out of work, which many would not have supported. And the guild may have positioned itself well for next time.
The deal supposedly gives the guild a peek at the numbers so it can figure out what the studios really do get from those ads. And the writers have now synced up their contract expiration date with the actors. So should the studios balk at giving the writers a real cut of the gross from streaming video next time (assuming it's worth having), the two unions could join hands and make some real trouble. (link)
Feb. 7, 2008
Game over? The drumroll, please, as the Writers Guild prepares to brief members on Saturday on the deal that may end the strike.
It surprises naive Hollywoodland to see Sid Ganis, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, shrieking in Variety that the guild hasn't given a verdict on the fate of the Oscars. The guild has said publicly and repeatedly that it won't grant a waiver if there's no deal. If, on Saturday, the deal is greeted with thunderous applause, the Oscars will go forward.
Kim Masters is an NPR correspondent and the author of The Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everyone Else.
Photograph of Steven Spielberg by by Bruno Vincent/Getty Images. Photograph of Joss Whedon by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images. Still from 30 Rock by Eric Liebowitz © 2007 NBC Universal, Inc. Photograph of David Geffen and Bill Clinton by Stephen Jaffe/AFP Photo.