Thursday, February 21, 2008

Not On Strike: The Belated Wrap-Up

This isn't the most relevant picture I could find, but who cares?
So it’s been a while since the Writer’s Guild of America ended and I’ve yet to post about it. It ended in a very anticlimactic way, which certainly dampens one’s enthusiasm. It wasn’t a defeat for the WGA, who managed to gain residuals for the internet distribution of content which was the entire point of the exercise, but it wasn’t entirely a defeat for the studios either. Of course, when neither side looks like it’s lost, that’s the ideal outcome of a negotiation, and whatever the outcome was, was likely to be spun both ways to start with. Most media coverage, mind you, has been slanted towards the studios for the simple reason that the companies that own the studios own most of the media outlets anyway, and the current gabbing point is that the writers lost more in revenue by striking than they are likely to gain back with the contract.
Even if this were true (and I’ll be damned if I’m going to crunch those numbers), there’s a certain stand on principle that had to be made here. If, as is predicted so often, online distribution becomes the bulk of the market, then a lack of residuals on such distribution would have meant an effective end to the residuals system as a significant source of income. In the short term this probably seemed like a good thing to the AMPTP, but of course getting rid of residuals just means everyone wants more money up front. Residuals have been in place for a while, mainly because they seem to work, and to see that they have been, effectively, preserved is reassuring.

Concessions were made, of course. After the AMPTP stormed out of talks over issues of jurisdiction over animation and reality programming, the WGA decided to drop their related demands. Officially speaking, animation writers and reality writers can join the WGA and even have productions fall under their contract, but unofficially all sorts of skullduggery can be done to make sure this doesn’t happen. There also wasn’t much done about the vanishingly small DVD rates that were supposed to have been increased when home video proved itself profitable sometime around the Reagan Administration. There’s also a free 17-day “promotional” window where the studios can stream content without paying for it, and abuse of that will have to be closely watched. Still, there may be a chance to work on issues like this when the contract comes up for renewal in three years- this is a relatively short period, and the renewal date is also much closer to that of the other unions, meaning that if we get another strike everyone involved will have much more leverage.

Thanks are due to the Directors’ Guild of America, as their early negotiation actually provided a great excuse for talks to restart without anyone losing face. There were some fears that since the DGA wouldn’t make residuals a priority (since they rely more on up-front payments) the writers would be pressured to accept an unfavorable contract, but they apparently held to the principle of Internet residuals even while demanding fairly low rates- getting what they did made it easier for the WGA to negotiate slightly higher percentages, since the AMPTP had basically blinked on the issue.

Of course, thanks are due to a lot of people- the striking writers perhaps most of all, and everyone who supported them on the picket line. This could have been a lot longer and more bitter than it turned out to be, and the below-the-line talent in particular showed a lot of patience. And in the end, you do have to give the AMPTP credit for coming to the table and reaching a deal; for whatever reason, they ended up doing the right thing. There’s still a lot of weirdness and skullduggery in the movie and TV business, but occasionally good things happen. Not the best ending one could hope for, but it could have been worse.

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