December 11, 2007

A Change Is Gonna Come [9:59 am]

Because a fight like this is only going to mean that they all lose: Screenwriters Dig In for an Extended Brawl

After days of haggling over complicated formulas for Internet pay, the latest round of talks blew up over the deeper issues that had been buried inside the writers’ contract proposals.

Accusing guild leaders of pursuing “an ideological mission far removed from the interests of their members,” representatives of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers expressed outrage over continuing demands of the writers that were not strictly related to pay.

These include requests for jurisdiction over those who write for reality TV shows and animated movies; for oversight of the fair-market value of intracompany transactions that might affect writer pay; and the elimination of a no-strike clause that prevents guild members from honoring the picket lines of other unions once a contract is reached.

The tone of shock in the producers’ statement seemed a bit artificial, as Mr. Verrone has for months laid out his plan to elevate the writers’ industry status. Yet their anger is genuine. Executives know that to concede the writers’ noneconomic demands would lead to a radical shift in industry power. [...]

An LATimes column points out the pending threat: In the strike, the studios are playing to winpdf

The studios have little to lose by stonewalling, since it’s all too clear that they can win any prolonged strike. Their pockets are too deep, their weaponry too strong. But at what cost? Even many studio supporters admit that squashing the WGA after a prolonged strike would be something of a pyrrhic victory. If network TV turns into a 24-hour reality TV and game show channel, it will simply accelerate the trend of young viewers deserting the tube for the Internet.

For the writers, their best defense now is a good offense. As I’ve argued before, their future lies in becoming more entrepreneurial. This would also be good strategy for future strike negotiations. With the studios stuck churning out reality sludge, the barriers for entry for an outsider are lower than ever. What’s to stop Google, Yahoo or Mark Cuban from striking a deal with a top TV show runner who has a proven ability to create characters and stories that would bring eyeballs to the Internet?

I suspect the guild is already in the process of setting up interim deals that would allow writers to work with companies not represented by the studios. It would be a way to show the WGA rank and file that other opportunities exist outside of the traditional studio model while sending a message to the other side that, when it comes to negotiating, the guild has other arrows in its quiver.

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