AMPTP vs. WGA: Giving Peace a Chance

TVWeek's James Hibberd: Rated

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The most interesting thing about today's full-page AMPTP newspaper ad is the tone.

The pre- and post-strike statements issued in the name of Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers president Nick Counter have typically been strident. Dispatches from a war room.

The lengthy ad copy in today's Los Angeles Times and New York Times reads as if composed in a Zen tea garden.

The unsigned ad, titled "An Open Letter," says there's "a lot of confusion about what the writers strike is all about." So much so, that "some respected writers ... demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of what is on the table and how they are paid." The ad reassures, "Such mistakes may be understandable ... given the complexity of the residual system," but they "contribute to an atmosphere where bridging the gap between us seems harder than ever."

The earnest copy could represent a tactical shift. In the wake of two polls showing most Americans support the striking writers and very few back the studios, the ad wraps Hollywood employers in warm and understanding tones.

The content also is important, but unfortunately familiar: The Alliance seeks to correct what it sees as two fundamental misunderstandings in its PR battle, explaining that writers already receive some money from digital downloads; and that the writers were offered a percentage of producer license fees from ad-supported streaming before their talks broke up.

"So the notion we are not sharing new-media revenue with writers is simply not correct," the ad calmly notes.

The WGA, the ad continues, was asking for unacceptable digital increases ranging from 200% to 700%.

The WGA East press office responded with its own missive, which adopted the more customary tone for discussing such matters.

"Nice try, AMPTP," the WGA response heckled, calling the ad "patronizing."

"FACT: In our abandoned negotiations, the AMPTP insisted that the residual rate for digital downloading be pegged to the current rate for DVDs, a penurious third of one cent on the dollar," the WGA replied. "Let's repeat that: A THIRD OF A PENNY!! The 700% increase they refer to roughly translates as 2.1 cents."

The WGAE response claims the AMPTP's offer would allow the studios and networks to stream content for free during the first six weeks after a show's initial broadcast, during which time user downloading presumably would be the highest.

The wearisome thing about the entire conversation is it continues to re-fight Bloody Sunday, the final day at the negotiation table, rather than represent forward momentum. Few newspaper readers really want to know exactly what is on the table. They want to find the day-after-Thanksgiving ads for flat-screen TV deals, and then perhaps watch an episode of "Grey's Anatomy"—preferably not a repeat.