WGA membership meetings tonight

by Paul William Tenny

The WGA-West is going to be holding their membership meeting to discuss -- not vote on -- the deal summary in a couple of hours, one that looks to have good points, bad points, and is every bit the result of trying to deal honestly with snake oils salesman. Deadline Hollywood has lots of "insider" coverage that is about as trustworthy as promises from the AMPTP. From what I understand, you only give a source anonymity when there's no other way to get that information. You don't give it just because someone wants to say something and not have their name attached, either because it will make them look bad, or because once you know who it is, you'll know better than to believe what they say.

That's the problem with anonymous sourcing, a persons credibility often weighs more heavily on what they say than what they are saying. That's actually bad, but there it is. Anyway, here's what's going on according to DHD.
Even after seeing how -- and supposedly being surprised by -- how the lies and deceit coming from the AMPTP had poisoned negotiations over the past three months, the CEOs are reportedly still saying one thing at the negotiating table, only to tell their lawyers who are drafting the contract do something completely different. It's as if there's a negotiating handbook these jerks are going by where chapter three has the title "Lying for fun and profit."

First, you know all the side deals the WGA has been signing with independent production companies over the past couple of weeks? Those deals are interim deals which can be superseded by any subsequent deal the WGA signs with the AMPTP that would be better than the one signed independently. Good for the companies, not so good for the WGA, but it's something the WGA could live with to get the deals in the first place. Life isn't perfect, but it's a fair clause.

The WGA wants something similar so that if SAG gets a better deal than they do, they'll benefit from it just like the independent production companies may end up getting with the final WGA-AMPTP deal. Unfortunately, the AMPTP is playing really stupid games over this in an already fragile situation. This is precisely the kind of crap that has kept the strike going this long in the first place, and it would be fitting, although horrible, if the AMPTP is simply incapable of growing up long enough to finish this off.

We were told Peter Chernin looked our team in the eye across the table while negotiating and said we would have it, then he denied it to his lawyers. Again, this deal is most likely as good as we'll get, but without that clause, especially if he lied to us, IT IS NOT COMPLETE.

What Chernin did here is no different than what Nick Counter and the AMPTP have been doing from the very beginning. Back in early November after the WGA's contract had expired but before the strike was called, the AMPTP told the WGA that if they took their demand to increase DVD residuals off the table, they'd offer writers something on new media in return. The WGA took DVDs off the table, and the AMPTP walked out.

That's established fact, which makes it unsurprising that Chernin is still playing games even this close to the finish line. The AMPTP seems to be closely following its game plan that has lengthened this strike rather than shortened it. That the DGA was able to secure a deal so quickly and painlessly is actually due to a couple of factors that should be highlighted here.

The first point of interest is that the DGA and AMPTP don't actually have a new deal yet. They've agreed between themselves what they want done, but only the DGA membership can approve the deal, which won't actually happen for about four or five more months. Technically speaking, there is no deal yet and in reality, they WGA deal will pave the way for the DGA deal later this summer -- not the other way around.

The second point of interest is that the AMPTP gave many things freely and easily to the DGA that they swore up and down over the past few months that the WGA wouldn't get even if they stayed on strike until the end of time. That presents a clear narrative of punitive negotiation where the AMPTP has repeatedly lied to the WGA, made insincere offers, and acted like adolescent teens raging against their parents -- all just because they were upset that the WGA went on strike, even though the strike was a direct result of the AMPTP walking away from the first round of talks.

There are other considerations beyond the so-called "sympathy clause" or whatever it might be called -- the one that improves the WGA's deal of SAG gets a better one.

The AMPTP has been insistent that it receive a grace period whereby they can stream TV shows online -- with commercials that make the studios money -- without any obligation to pay writers anything. Throughout most of the talks, the AMPTP has been calling this a "promotional" time period, but most people disagree since we're talking about the unlimited streaming of full-length episodes that even have commercials in them, from which the studios will profit financially.

As time has passed, that window has shrunk down to about 17 days, which I'm sure is going to upset a lot of people. First know that the AMPTP companies have to pay writers about $20k (or close there-to) for the first time any given network episode is re-run -- that's how I understand it, though I may be off just a tad. What many have argued is that the networks rather than showing any reruns on television at all, will shift all reruns to the web, for which not only will they only have to pay 1/10th the cost, but won't even have to pay it at all for the first 17 days, which hysterically is going to be the time period during which most people will get online to view it.

As it goes with games, it will probably go with TV streaming. In gaming, 90% of all sales come within the first three months. They say that if you can protect the game from being copied illegally for the first three months, then after that it doesn't matter. Likewise, if you can stream a rerun for the first 17 days free, most people will have watched it already, leaving very little money for writers to earn.

That's going to be a sticking point and it'll be interesting to see how the membership feels about it tonight.
in Digital Media, Labor, Streaming Video


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