Derek Powazek has written about the Writer’s Guild of America strike: Luddites on the Picket Lines? He’s right – the writers need to demonstrate that they understand the internet a lot better than they have so far.
But before you start talking about the internet, read up. Internet distribution is not the same as TV or DVD. A DVD buyer is someone who then owns a shiny plastic disc with stuff on it. Codifying a viewer online is a lot trickier. If I watch half a show on NBC.com, do you get half a royalty? What if I only watched 12 minutes, while the browser was in the background, while I was also chatting and texting and doing whatever it is the kids do nowadays?
There is a distinction between, say, a paid download from iTunes and a YouTube viewing, and if the writers want a percentage of the latter, well, they’re going to be waiting a long time.
Thanks for the great comment, Mikel. (I changed the title of my post to be less inflammatory after you posted, fwiw.) You’re right: We should draw a line between iTunes and YouTube – one is a lot more like buying a DVD than the other. It’s clear from the writers that they’re also pissed about Hulu and the studio’s websites airing the content, when it’s not clear how exactly that fits in.
Cross-posting this from Derke’s site:
Thanks for your interest in the strike. I’m a WGA memeber. A few things to consider: first, many writers are very net savvy. Even the oldtimers have blogs. UNITEDHOLLYWOOD is a blog started by the writers/personalities on BEST WEEK EVER. Check it out.
It is the studio owners with whom we struggle who are trying to monetize the internet. However, hypocritically, as they carefully track downloads, build their own sites (HULU) to control ad revenue, fight against YOUTUBE, etc., they are tells US that we CAN’T get paid if YOU PAY to see it off iTUNES, but we CAN get paid if you watch it for FREE on TV. HUH?
All we are saying is if THE STUDIOS make money off our work on the internet, we should make the same 2.5% residual for whatever money the studios manage to squeeze out of advertisers or the consumers directly.
This is all about using the internet to roll back a hard-won tenet of Hollywood — with success, comes money.
It is brutally hard to get something produced, much less have a hit. It’s nearly impossible to have a career of hits. Residuals even out the ride and make it possible for the few who can to be full-time professional writers.
Hope this helps clarify things.
Specific to NBC/Universal and FOX: Both are streaming full shows in an ad-supported fashion (suspiciously like the conventional TV model), yet saying that this is “promotional” (nevermind the ads, writers) and paying NO residuals. This is the #1 reason for the strike. How can a company have ad-supported content, yet call it “promotional” to roll back the concept of residuals.
HULU is their version of iTunes, born out of a fight with Apple’s $1.99 pricing policy and NBC/Fox’s anger that Apple is selling hardware “on the back of our content”.
HULU is essentially a vertically-integrated iTunes. They will charge $2.99 or more for direct download. They want to offer writers a residual that is 80% less than their normal TV rate for the same show.
Again, all we want is the same percentage of their NET PROFIT (after their streaming expenses, etc.) that we would get for a TV airing. These residuals are not “tips” but factored into our up-front fees as well (they pay us less on the front end, when no one is making money, with the idea that we’ll “make it up” on the back end, when they are making money). The studios are using the fact that the same content is being viewed on a different screen to try to forever alter this basic philosophy of Hollywood business.
I hope this helps!
We appreciate you blogging about the strike.
I’m glad to hear your perspective here, Kevin. I’m not at all one-sided on the issue – in an earlier post, I made it clear that I think it’s ridiculous that Corporate Entertainment would try to nickel and dime the very people – the writers – who are going to deliver whatever stories they’ll need to build their businesses upon in the future, whatever models end up surviving.
At the same time, there are things that aren’t necessarily monetized yet – and trying to push the issue as if every download is the same as any other is IMO doomed to failure. Just because ads appear in the network program feeds doesn’t mean anyone paid anything close to market value for those slots – and in reality, market value might be shockingly small.
For verifiably pay-per-view content, though, I’m entirely in agreement that writers should be paid a residual on that revenue.
“Just because ads appear in the network program feeds doesn’t mean anyone paid anything close to market value for those slots – and in reality, market value might be shockingly small.”
I suppose we are fighting for the right for that possibility to be left open at such time when those ad rates are not so insignificant. The Producers’ proposal makes it explicit that no residuals will ever be paid for ad-supported streaming, no matter what.
Our proposal on this issue says that we will get 2.5% of the Producers’ NET profits — that is, profits after ALL operational expenses are deducted.
With our proposal, if they are in the red or break-even, despite ad sales, we would get nothing. If they are in the black, after all production (the cost of the show) and operational expenses (the cost of the site) are deducted, we get residuals, just as we would if the screen were a TV screen and not a computer screen.
In their proposal, no matter how much money they are making or would ever make from ad-supported streaming, writers would NEVER be entitled to a residual, as they have arbitrarily classified ALL streaming as “promotional”, even if (and they say this explicitly in their proposal), they are receiving ad revenue and show the content in its entirety.
So, the strike is about asserting the legitimacy of residuals for a distribution stream that has a chance of becoming the dominant (or at least financially significant) distribution model for content in the future.
The WGA, in 1985, fell for the Producers’ “poor us” routine over the emerging market of home video, and they never adjusted the residual structure. We’re not going to willingly “give up ground” — even if that ground is virtual, unproven and currently unprofitable.
Once again, I greatly appreciate your interest. In explaining this to you, it’s sharpening my own resolve!