WGA issues ‘pattern of demands’

Guild wants more new-media revenues

Leaders of the Writers Guild of America have placed studios and nets on official notice that their top priority will be getting scribes a bigger cut of new-media revenues.

The WGA made its position clear Friday as part of its 25-item “pattern of demands” for upcoming contract negotiations. As expected, guild toppers stressed they’re most interested in hammering out formulas for Internet reuse and for work created specifically for the Internet, cell phones and other digital platforms.

“We look forward to bargaining a contract that benefits all writers,” said WGA West prexy Patric Verrone. “As new creative opportunities and income streams emerge in the entertainment industry, we must ensure that writers get their fair share of revenue generated by the content they create.”

In response, Nick Counter of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers dismissed the WGA’s wish list as a non-starter that’s out of touch with the current realities of showbiz economics.

“It is an assault on the entire industry — those above and below the line,” said Counter, president of the AMPTP. “We are committed to making a deal — one that is fair to both sides… one that is realistic, reasonable and respects our contributions and our business needs as well as theirs.”

And Counter, who heads the industry’s negotiating team, signaled that companies will push hard for revamping the entire residuals structure — with payments coming only when shows break into the black. “We have been paying residuals on losses for far too long. It is time to re-examine the entire economic landscape… new media as well as traditional media,” he added.

Such comments are not uncommon during the run-up to WGA negotiations. But many of the WGA’s other key issues are also likely to incur rock-hard resistance — guaranteed jurisdiction over reality TV, animation and gameshows, increased initial pay in all areas, hikes in minimum pay and residuals at the CW network, an improved homevid residuals formula, increased caps on company pension and health contributions and inclusion of language addressing product integration in guild-covered work.

The guild’s announcement was part of disclosing that it’s asked its 12,000 members to endorse the 25 issues in its “pattern of demands,” hammered out by its negotiating committee over the past three months. The demands are meant to serve as guidelines to guild negotiators.

Approval by the membership — which amounted to 97% in 2004 — is a foregone conclusion. That vote’s required to trigger the start of contract talks, set to launch July 16 to replace the current three-year pact, which expires on Oct. 31.

In its announcement, WGA negotiating committee chief John Bowman stressed the importance of improved pay in fast-growing digital-delivery platforms.

“The negotiating committee is comprised of working writers in television and film who know the Internet is the distribution channel of the future,” Bowman said. “We have families, and a significant portion of our income is dependent upon the reuse of our services. It is reasonable to expect that we will defend our income, based on royalty models the companies have endorsed in the past. If they get paid, we get paid. If they don’t, we don’t.

“This strikes me as perfectly reasonable,” Bowman added. “It’s sane. We expect the companies to negotiate in similar good faith.”

Negotiations are expected to be tension-filled, given the more assertive WGA leadership and the strained relationships between two sides over the past two years. In 2004, the WGA wasn’t able to reach a deal by the contract expiration after making DVD residuals the centerpiece of its demands and eventually agreed to the current deal with significant hikes in health and pension benefits.

Furthermore, Counter hasn’t found any traction yet for the companies’ informal proposal — first raised last month — that the WGA, DGA and SAG agree to a jointly funded outside study into new-media platforms. WGA West assistant exec director Charles Slocum spurned the idea on grounds that there’s already plenty of info available.

WGA members were asked Friday to return the ballot on the “pattern of demands” by June 14. Other items covered in the “pattern of demands” include the following:

  • All contract provisions apply to low budget programs made for basic cable.

  • improvements in daytime compensations including breakdown and sample script minimums.

  • modification of initial compensation provisions for quiz and audience participation programs.

  • improved protections against late payment.

  • Additional procedures to enforce standards in gross-based residual payments.

  • nIncrease funding for contract compliance programs.

  • Increase television residuals for the CW and MyNetwork TV, and made for pay and basic cable; reduce thresholds for foreign residuals; improve and expand residuals on sequel payments.

  • Require companies to provide info on literary material used for and characters appearing in interactive programs.

  • inclusion of “fair procedures” for recognizing WGA jurisdiction.

  • provision for writers who have “separated rights” have the first opportunity to write the interactive game based on that film or program.

  • beefing up funding for the Showrunner Training Program.

  • expansion of arbitration lists for grievance and arbitration.

  • clarification that merchandising provisions apply to “ringtones” that are based on guild-covered material.

  • establish minimums for some ancillary uses of comedy-variety material.

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