WGA Leaders Speak Out on Producer's Offer

'Bare Bones' Deals Are Not Acceptable

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Distance remains on key issues in the ongoing writers strike and it's not clear that a settlement can be reached at present, according to two senior members of the Writers Guild of America.

At issue in talks between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is payment to writers for content that appears online, an increasingly common phenomenon given penetration of broadband connections in households. Despite a proposal made by AMPTP late Thursday, the WGA does not feel it's getting a great offer, said Chuck Slocum, the WGA's associate Executive Director.

'Bit of a disconnect'
"They had offered $250 for a year of internet reuse. Think of 'Heroes' being streamed on NBC.com. Now they could have up to 2 million streams for an episode and $250 would be paid to the writer, and so that was a bit of a disconnect on that proposal we saw this week," said Mr. Slocum, who made his remarks on a conference call for investors with Natixis Bleichroder senior media analyst Alan Gould.

The WGA is also looking at how much its members will be paid for original content that airs online first, Mr. Slocum said. Media companies "don't want to cover that with anything that is more than bare bones, and that is not acceptable," he said.

The strike has been in effect since Nov. 5. Already, networks have begun to hoard original episodes of prime-time programs, and many late-night favorites are in repeats. Generally speaking, marketers are locked into ad contracts until early next year, when they get an option to repurpose ad dollars committed during the upfront for the second quarter. Media buyers suggest they could move dollars out of network TV or ask for cash back if the strike is a prolonged one. The last WGA strike, in 1988, lasted more than five months.

"My hope is we'll get this settled next week," said John Bowman, the WGA negotiating committee chair, who was also present on the call. "But this depends on them [CEOs at the big media companies]. My hope is they care about their shareholders more than they do the ego of this particular power struggle," he added.

Sensitive time
The strike takes place at a sensitive time for TV networks in particular. With audiences watching more programs on a time-shifted basis, or in new venues such as the web or on portable devices, advertisers are scrutinizing the amount of ad money they commit to TV. With many networks preparing to air reality programming instead of original scripted fare -- NBC is getting ready to launch a new version of "American Gladiators," for instance -- advertisers fear network TV will not be able to secure the mass audiences they depend on to reach and promote their goods and services.

The WGA estimates its demands would cost each major studio approximately $5 million to $7 million more than the last contract did, Mr. Slocum said.

He also suggested that the longer the strike goes on, the more WGA members might be prompted to seek out ways to create programming that could air directly on the web, without having to work through a major network or movie studio.

Signs have begun to emerge that this is gaining traction among the creative community. NBC recently indicated it would air "Quarterlife," a web drama from Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick, best known as producers of TV series such as "Thirtysomething" and "My So-Called Life."
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