Touchstone pacts for mobile spinoff

In a first-of-its-kind meeting of the minds in the interactive space, the three major guilds and Touchstone Television have reached an agreement on ABC’s long-stalled “Lost” spinoff for mobile phones.

Actors, writers and directors will earn residuals at the pay TV rate — the formula the guilds have thus far unsuccessfully been pushing to apply to iTunes downloads.

Alphabet net first announced plans for “Lost Video Diaries” in November. At the time, it planned to produce the series separate from Touchstone so it could use non-guild talent, as Fox does for its “24” and upcoming “Prison Break” mobile shows.

However, the skein’s writer-producers, actors and directors refused to support the spinoff if it was non-union, allowing the DGA, WGA and SAG to present ABC-Disney with a united front.

“The initial conversation we had with ABC was to do the mobisodes with third-party contractors and non-union talent, but we quickly found the only way we could do this is with our writers and our actors,” exec producer Carlton Cuse told Daily Variety. “A couple of strange people on an island wasn’t going to be ‘Lost.’ It’s great that in this climate of supposedly irrevocable difference, Touchstone and the guilds were able to forge an agreement.”

While the agreement applies only to “Lost Video Diaries,” Touchstone has agreed to work with the guilds on future mobile series, most likely on similar terms.

“We look forward to finding additional ways in which we can work together to experiment on a guild-represented basis in this new digital media arena,” said Touchstone TV prexy Mark Pedowitz.

Guild reps indicated that, in the short term, they’d be happy to use the “Lost” agreement as a template for deals with other studios.

That could come up soon, as the unions were surprised Monday by Fox’s announcement of the “Prison Break” mobile series — its second — and said they plan to try to get involved.

“Fox did ’24’ under the radar without our consent or knowledge,” WGA West prexy Patric Verrone said. “Now I understand they are talking about ‘Prison Break,’ and we will certainly try to insinuate ourselves into that right away.”

“Lost” mobile deals will expire at the same time as the guilds’ basic agreements — Oct. 31, 2007, for the WGA and June 30, 2008, for the DGA and SAG — and the guilds all hope to get similar or better terms for mobile and other interactive platforms into their new deals.

Under newly aggressive leadership, the guilds are aiming to ensure they get a better deal for emerging digital platforms in their upcoming contract negotiations than they agreed to for homevideo when that now-huge business was in its infancy.

Along with pay TV residual rates, guilds negotiated new minimums for mobisodes up to five minutes long. Actors, for instance, will get $425 for an eight-hour day starting immediately and $450 per day as of April 1 next year. Minimum jumps to $759 on June 30, 2008, the last day of the deal, to give SAG a higher rate from which to start new negotiations.

Unions will get residuals on cell phones and the Web at a lower rate for pay-per-view than for ad-supported. However, ABC carved out an exception allowing it to stream “Lost Video Diaries” without paying residuals on its own Web site if it offers them for free without ads, essentially using them as promotion and not to generate revenue.

Residuals apply against the distributor’s share of revenue, which is usually around half of what consumers pay after cell phone carriers take their cut.

If “Lost Video Diaries” turns up on air or on DVD, existing residual rates will apply.

“This unique agreement represents a crucial first step into a new frontier of production and content distribution,” said SAG topper Alan Rosenberg. “Touchstone has made clear its commitment to revisit the contract terms as this new business develops. As a result, we have worked with them to ensure that actors are properly protected as we all embrace this emerging technology.”

“This deal mark the first of many to come, and illustrates how, by working together with producers, we will achieve agreements that are mutually beneficial,” DGA prexy Michael Apted said.

Touchstone is expected to start production on “Lost Video Diaries” along with the third season of the TV series in August and to start offering mobisodes around the same time as the season premiere in the fall. “Diaries” likely will premiere initially on Verizon Wireless, though other carriers may follow in the U.S. and overseas.

Cuse said he and fellow exec producer Damon Lindelof are developing a storyline specifically for the cell phone screen.

Mobile series initially was planned to feature new characters from the series’ plane crash who haven’t been seen on air. With the agreements, however, Cuse said characters from the show will be included.

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