The Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike has officially come to an end, some 148 days after it started, as an agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) was unanimously backed on Tuesday.
Both parties outlined a new three-year minimum basic agreement on Sunday, after negotiating such contentious issues as writing room staff levels. The industrial action saw a number of shows taken off the air.
Members of the WGA hit the picket lines at the start of May after negotiations over contractual terms, including pay, broke down. The studios’ refusal to rule out artificial intelligence one day replacing human workers escalated the tensions. The AMPTP comprises the major studios: Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney, Warner Bros., NBC Universal, Sony and Paramount.
There have also been issues with actors and screenwriters’ compensation not correlating with the billions of streams that shows and films now often draw.
In July, the Screen Actors Guild—American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) announced that its 160,000 members would also go on strike, amid issues including over pay structure. That essentially shut down Hollywood for months, marking the first time in more than 60 years that both groups had staged a walkout.
In a statement shared with Newsweek at the time, representatives of AMPTP said that the trade association “presented a deal that offered historic pay and residual increases, substantially higher caps on pension and health contributions, audition protections, shortened series option periods, and a groundbreaking AI proposal that protects actors’ digital likenesses for SAG-AFTRA members.”
While the SAG-AFTRA strike currently remains ongoing, eligible WGA voters will be casting ballots to ratify their new agreement from October 2 through October 9.
The new deal will lead to a number of changes within the industry, which will see certain areas benefit more than others. Newsweek has looked at those who have emerged as the winners and losers from the new agreement.
A summary of the agreement published on the WGA’s website reads that foreign streaming residuals “will now be based on the streaming service’s number of foreign subscribers for services available globally, amounting to a 76% increase (including a 2.5% base increase) to the foreign residual for the services with the largest global subscriber bases over 3 years.”
As an example, those who write for Netflix will see the streaming platform’s three-year foreign residuals rise from the current structure of $18,684 for a one-hour episode to $32,830—almost double the previous sum.
While there are a number of streaming services now on the market, Netflix remains by far the most popular in international territories.
One area that the WGA fought for was provisions for better staffing in development rooms. This has been addressed with a new requirement on the number of writers hired for series that have been given the green light for at least six episodes per season.
Shows that have an episode run of seven to 12 per season are required to hire five writers, while series that have a run of 13 episodes or more must take on six writers. Of these totals, three writer-producers are required to be onboard.
While increased staffing will be something to celebrate for WGA members who have pushed for increased employment, an exception has been made for solo-writer shows, in which all episodes are penned by a single writer. Examples of these are The White Lotus (Mike White) and Big Little Lies (David E. Kelley).
In those cases, the writer’s deal with the studio, streamer or TV network is required to call for the writer to produce their work as a solo entity from the start. For writers who aren’t yet viewed as prolific showrunners, this exception could likely become a bone of contention in the coming years.
The large majority of screenwriters will now be guaranteed payment to do at least one rewrite of a screenplay draft, following objections to the AMPTP only offering such terms to wholly original screenplays.
Before the agreement, screenwriters on such projects as reboots, remakes and existing intellectual property were not entitled to such payment. This led to concerns that studios would pursue more remakes in a bid to cut costs.
“A second step is required whenever a writer is hired for a first draft screenplay for 200% of minimum or less, including original and non-original screenplays,” reads a summary of the new terms.
Secretive Streamers (Viewing Figures)
Streaming platforms’ notorious practice of not sharing data on their viewing figures has become a thing of the past—although they’re only slightly affected under the new agreement.
As the WGA pushed for its writers’ compensation to be attached to the success of streaming shoes, the guild has proposed to “establish a viewership-based residual—in addition to the existing fixed residual—to reward programs with greater viewership.” It also requires “transparency regarding program views.”
The new agreement will see residuals paid out on projects that “are viewed by 20% or more of the service’s domestic subscribers in the first 90 days of release, or in the first 90 days in any subsequent exhibition year.”
WGA’s access to information from these platforms will be limited to confidential access to “the total number of hours streamed, both domestically and internationally, of self-produced high budget streaming programs (e.g., a Netflix original series).” It was also stated that streamers “may share information with the membership in aggregated form.”
Sharing such information with the WGA could open something of a Pandora’s box for streaming platforms, whose advertisers and investors could potentially push for more details on who is watching content on the platform.
Still, the streamers have not lost out completely, as they are only required to share the number of hours streamed, as opposed to information on how many people have watched a show or film.
AI Software Companies
Companies behind artificial intelligence (AI) that have been trying to push its use into the mainstream have been dealt a huge blow, due to stringent new limits.
“AI-generated material can’t be used to undermine a writer’s credit or separated rights,” reads a segment of the new agreement, which awards the WGA power to challenge AI software programs being trained via writers’ existing work.
Under the contract, AI can’t be used to write or rewrite literary material. However, a writer can use the services of AI for projects, provided consent has been given by companies and the individual follows certain policies. A writer cannot be compelled to use AI software.
Additionally, companies are required to inform a writer if any materials given to them were generated with the use of AI.
Writers on Successful Old Cable/Network Shows
While many writers have seen dramatic improvements in their residual packages via the new agreement, one group is notably missing out.
Original writers on older cable and network TV projects that have subsequently aired on streamers will remain uncompensated by the newer platforms.
An example of this is the legal drama Suits, which has been a hit on Netflix internationally, after having initially premiered on the USA Network.
This part of the agreement could lead to a scramble from streamers to acquire other cable and network shows, as their anticipated success on such platforms would not lead to payouts to the original writers.
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