November 14, 2007

Writers' Strike: You Oughta Know This

Before you get all worked up about Jack Bauer getting caught in limbo because of the Writer's Strike, you should watch this video. It's a collection of studio bigwigs commenting on how they're making money hand over fist for all these TV programs people are watching on the internet, and other digital media.

The strike was called to force the studios to re-negotiate residuals paid on digitally distributed material. When the current fee schedule was created back in 1988, no one had heard of the internet; CDs were just starting to appear, and LaserDiscs were already established as the successor to the 8-track tape.

Back then, the big money was made on TV re-runs; not only re-runs of TV shows, but broadcasts of cinema releases. Back then, VCR tapes of movies were sold for anywhere from $50 to $125 dollars. Blockbuster referred only to movies in theaters, and NetFlix wasn't even a pipe dream.

So the writers got pretty good fees on tv broadcasts and re-runs, but agreed to take extremely small fees on tape sales. Mostly, this was because the market was starting, and there wasn't much money being made at all.

Douglas McGrath also does a great job explaining the reasons for the writers' strike in this Newsweek article.

From the article:
A residual is like an author's royalty. We are paid them whenever our work is shown on TV. They are a key part of how a writer survives between jobs, and it is an eminently fair idea: when the network (or studio) makes money off our work, so do we.....

This is the central point that viewers should understand; writers are not asking for a random figure to be taken away from the producers; they are only asking to get a share of the show that they created for the producer.

The residual has been established practice since 1960, when the Writers Guild first went on strike for it. Before that no one was given residuals. The writers of the imperishably entertaining "I Love Lucy," a show that has run without stop, making hundreds of millions of dollars for its owners, have never received royalties for that work....

How many times have you seen I Love Lucy? It went off the air before I was born, and yet most of us can recite our favorite episodes. And every single time you see it, the producers are still collecting money on episodes that were paid in full about fifty years ago.

So we flash forward to 1988:

We had been asked by the studios to take a smaller share than we wanted because the video market was new and uncertain and our doing so would help grow the industry.
Right now, if you go online and watch a streaming version of a TV show, the company that owns that property is getting paid by the advertisers whose commercials appear at the top of it. Just like TV, but with one difference: the writers are paid no residual, not even the four cents.

Now you might be wondering, "But can the producers really AFFORD to pay these writers? After all, the studios don't make a dime on all those downloads and streams from their website."

Oh, REALLY? Well, listen to what the studio heads were saying BEFORE the strike.....

Thanks to Dusty for the heads up!

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