11/19/2007

MediaWeek: The Networks' Rome is Burning

Picketing is long and tedious work. It's not something that any of us want to be doing, and after a few weeks of it, it's natural to ask, "Is this doing any good?"

Yes, it is.

Everyone's already heard that the AMPTP is returning to the table to negotiate with us, and a big part of the reason for that is the labor stoppage. Today, MediaWeek is telling a new side of the story. The strike is about to hit the TV networks in the wallet:

Media buyers, in light of the Writers Guild of America strike, say they might be a month away from asking the broadcast networks to renegotiate their upfront packages or give them cash back.


The networks have a clock on them, and the experts don't think reality programs will be able to bail out their schedules:


Sternberg projects that if the strike continues through the end February, the broadcast networks will lose an additional 5 percent of its prime-time ratings, on top of the minus 12 percent it is currently averaging. That number will grow to 8 percent in March (down 20 percent compared to last season), by 12 percent in April (-24 percent) and by 13 percent in May (-25 percent).

That level of audience defection from broadcast prime time will surely leave the networks with virtually no way to meet their promised upfront guarantees and would likely prompt a large number of advertisers to ask for cash back. It would also create chaos for the 2008-09 upfront in May.


In a separate article, media buyers and experts speculate that even those reality shows that manage to do huge numbers during the strike (like Fox's much-touted American Idol) won't be able to keep advertisers entirely happy, especially those looking to court the upscale demographics:

“Obviously, this is not what we thought we bought,” she said, referring to the current marketplace, versus broadcasters’ assurances during last spring’s upfronts. “All our investments are mindful of the clients we buy for in terms of what’s the best strategic fit for that client, and any disruption to that strategy is just not a good thing.”


This is good news for our negotiating position. On the eve of tomorrow's rally, everyone should feel confident that our contributions are having a measurable impact, and that a fair deal is within reach.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why are you waiting till the 26th to talk? I mean as a production worker I realize you are taking your sweet time to get back to the table but it really should be happening today.

Besides, this article is just speculation. Like both sides any sign of weakness on the other side is being exploited and blown up beyond what REALLY is happening.

If Vegas was taking odds betting on how long this will go or how crappy a deal the writers are going to get I would bet the house on the producers getting the better deal, or it lasting beyond 6 weeks and they use force majeure (sp?).

The producers can last the 6 weeks, can all the bad development companies last? Watch all these non-productive deals get thrown off the lots and then the writers just get 5 cents.

But you're fighting the good fight right? Just like in 88' when you got the crappy deal you yell about now.

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering if the process can be accelerated by having fans appeal directly to advertisers. Let them know that their bottom line is going to be adversely affected the longer this drags on.

Sam said...

The whole "force majeure at six weeks" thing is a myth. It is determined by whatever is in your contract. Ask your lawyer. You can be force majeure-d immediately, or at two weeks, or four, or 145 weeks... there's no magic "six weeks" of any kind, and for that matter it's usually sooner.

In addition, what deals are these guys really looking to get rid of? Hardly any writer has a big-time deal these days.

Anonymous said...

We can't go back to the table earlier than the 26th because that's the date the AMPTP agreed to. Talk to them, anonymous.

Pamalax said...

In regard to fans appealing directly to the advertisers we began a project to do just that just last night.

Consumers for the WGA
http://community.livejournal.com/consumers4wga/

Anonymous said...

The 26th is a date you, the WGA, agreed to as well. Did anyone really jump up and down and ask to go in earlier? I doubt it. That way it gives both sides more time to get their arsenal together, meanwhile we, the production crews who were laid off just sit around waiting.

And to Sam the 6 week window is actually a real thing buddy. It is a standard that the studios have set across the board so that no group can claim they are ever dealt a bad deal and take an early firing to arbitration. 6 weeks is just that 6 weeks. Watch how fast the studios clean shop after the 6 week window comes.

And a prime example, although they no longer are in contention, would be Revolution's deal with Sony. Its not a specific-to-writer scenario but rather one that will hit all these hyphenates who hold them.

Sam said...

Happy to believe you excpet nobody seems to know what this six weeks thing is in legal terms. When you say "it is a standard" what does that mean? It's got to be written somewhere. Is it a boilerplate clause in people's individual contracts? Is it in the Guild contract? Something else?

Again, my highly paid entertainment lawyer disagrees with you so I'd love to save some money and fire him if I can prove him wrong : )

Caitlin said...

Take that, "we'll benifit from a strike" exec-holes. I'm not saying the talks will do it, or that this thing won't last. But a few nice punches to the uppity attitude of the opposition are just what the WGA needs. There's our leverage. Let's use it in negotiations and do whatever we can do get a good deal as quickly as possible. And I'm probably being somewhat naive here. But it's better to be hopeful. If we don't think this can be settled quickly, it won't be. November 26, please get here quickly.

laid off production member said...

Heard from an assistant at a studio (good source?) that the AMPTP will not budge at all. So how will we know that the two sides are progressing toward hammering something out? especially if there's a news blackout while the parties are in the room "negotiating"? How do we know that the sides won't be in the room twidling their thumbs all day and then tell us that they're still at an impasse and break talks again?

Anonymous said...

Call me crazy but Nov. 26 probably has a very simple explanation. Thanksgiving this week anybody? Usually folks take the day before and after plus the weekend as part of a package of days off for school, work, etc. Not sure if banks being off has anything to do with it. I bet the lawyers involved are taking a break though and surely to make it official there are i's to be legally dotted and t's to cross.

I'm sure some people are willing to negotiate through the birth of their first born but the AMPTP don't care if they've left someone jobless for Thanksgiving, they want their turkey/tofurkey danggit. It may not be everyone's ideal to be sans employment until after this weekend but it's not insane if you know it's gonna take more than 24-48hrs to hammer something out to wait until after a major holiday where there'll be a lot of driving and flights (do we really think none of those cars or planes will be bearing some of the very individuals who'd otherwise be negotiating?). Throwing intense negotiations in there too is just a mess.

Greg said...

Ah, first anonymous--so you're a production worker? There a reason you didn't leave your name? You're certainly not in any danger of suffering for doing so. I mean, you have the right to speak out…

except, of course, that chances are 9/10 you're just a troll.

Next time, leave your full name and job description. What are you doing hanging around this blog anyway? You don't like it here, I'm sure the AMPTP has a website.

That is, if you weren't a troll. Which you are.

Anonymous said...

Greg,

I read this stuff / and site for the hope that one of your points may actually be a good one. Yes, I am sure that the AMPTP has a site I can go to as well but doubt they call those who post opposing views trolls. Honestly is that the best thing you can think of, "Oh they don't agree with our mighty, morally right ways, TROLL!!!!" It's just plain sad. Production personal like myself don't post our info for the fear that if you are willing to just slander us for posting anonymously, who's to say what you might try with all our info.

Sam,

I would love to read whatever contract your highly paid lawyer is claiming doesn't have a "6 week" timetable. While it doesn't have to be executed at 6 weeks it doesn't mean that it isn't written in there. If there wasn't such a clause writers and producers alike wouldn't be making such a stink about it.

There have been countless articles stating this to be the case as true, far beyond those of the often times biased daily trades. I am no lawyer but I would like to believe that not all the journalists are just spouting rumor.

It is a clause written into every production deal between a studio and a production company. It is there to allow either party to end the business relationship in case such an act, like a strike, may hinder the relationship to continue moving forward. If you have a contract with a studio I would read the very fine print yourself.

Anonymous said...

I work at a media agency. I promise you the advertisers are restless. They already feel screwed over by networks because the nets are putting off makegoods and inventory is running low. You WILL hear people asking for money back. This is not speculation.

Advertisers see the networks losing the PR battle, big time, and the advertisers we talk to also feel the writers have a solid argument about what they want. The producers are the ones who are seen as liars -- because they ARE lying about what's going on.

Moreover, the producers are seen as soooooo out of touch. Those full page ads are just laughable, and a nice example of how 20th Century the thinking is from their side. People are generally siding with the writers because they GET IT; the producers don't.

Sometime after Thanksgiving, advertisers are going to start asking for money back. You can bet on it. When that happens, I think the strike will end very quickly.

Sam said...

Anon #1: I agree that "force majeure" is in contracts, but not everybody's at six weeks like you say.

My lawyer (again, very high profile entertainment firm in town) says that every studio has different windows for force majeure. 20th's window is typically immediate to 3 weeks, Warner Bros. is immediate, Sony is five weeks... etc.

Important to note: some studios can contractually invoke force majeure immediately. Yet nobody has done it to my knowledge. Obviously we would have heard about any terminated writer deals because that's big news in this climate.

Even if my lawyer is wrong (which I assure you is unlikely), many of the "countless articles" you cite also illustrate a flexible window on force majeure:

TV Guide:
Many writers' production deals "trigger" the termination clause four to six weeks into a stoppage, but in some cases, it could only be two weeks.

Variety:
Studios would probably invoke force majeure to notify smaller producers that their contracts could be terminated if a strike lingers. The usual period to trigger actual termination is four to six weeks once a strike has begun.

Note the term smaller producers. Because also in Variety:
Many producers with clout have clauses in their deals that preclude them from being discharged under these terms.

Certainly possible that Revolution has such a clause in their contract with Sony.

My point is this: you are postulating that the strike is purposely being stretched out by the companies to exactly six weeks for the purpose of cancelling a wave of production deals.

While I agree that the studios may use the strike to terminate a few deals they're unhappy with, I seriously doubt that the wave you're envisioning will take place 1) because everybody's contract is different, and 2) I'll bet the number of deals they can or even want to cancel is fairly small.

Of course the studios will suspend as many deals as they can, but that's not the same thing.

Please do post if you hear of someone's deal being terminated. If it ever actually happened, it would be good to know.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Even without a strike, your show can get shut down at any moment without warning. It happens all the time. Face it- it's a wildly unpredictable buisiness with no job security whatsoever. So while I appreciate production workers who are antsy, I don't appreciate the ones who are blaming. This is at least a good reason to stop working, one that benefits all of us, as opposed to networks just pulling the plug.

Anonymous said...

Just so you know, my brother works for viacom and says that they WANT to renegotiate the upfronts. This plays into the strike lasting six weeks/force majeure argument. Maybe this will be over by christmas/new years.

English Dave said...

Last year the networks had $260 million in give backs without a strike.

The advertisers are going to totally ream them this time round unless they are convinced there will be new product - and soon.

Thanks for the heads up from your brother anon. Seems to me that can only strengthen the WGA's hand.

English Dave said...

Oh and - Viacom, the media conglomerate that owns MTV, on Friday reported an increase of 80 percent in third-quarter earnings,

money.cnn.com/2007/11/02/news/companies/bc.apfn.earns.viacom.ap/index.htm

I wonder what 4th quarter earnings will be if the advertisers play hard ball?

Follow the money, peeps. Contact the advertisers and voice your displeasure at the AMPTP's stance.

Anonymous said...

what's uh, the deal? us regular folks are sick and tired of seeing Hollywood employees making absurd amounts of money. do you really think we feel sorry for you? get back to work... we don't get to strike when we aren't happy with the cards we're dealt. i'm sick of the reruns on Letterman, SNL, etc. does your contract not allow the actors/hosts to write their own skits? at the rate Hollywood salaries are growing, you're all gonna be out of work eventually.

Andrew said...

"Us regular folks"? What makes you think writers aren't just regular folks who happen to possess a certain talent, the same as a talent for fixing cars, teaching or nursing? Unfortunately the mythologizing powers (and tendencies) of movies and TV create the impression that "showbiz folk" are quantitatively different. Except for the lunatic fringe (sadly, usually actors and directors) we ain't. We drive our old cars to MacDonalds like everyone else, then go home and write scripts instead of waving jets into gates or loading furniture. It's work, that's all - work we often take pride in, and work, when meddled with by our bosses, we often don't. But the allure of this town draws an awful lot of semi-talents whom the sieve of time and posterity's judgement take a while to sort out... but whom the bosses are always happy to point out will do our jobs if we're discontented. And so they treat us badly, because they can.

How many "regular folks" regularly wait six months to be paid for something they were asked for "urgently" on a Friday, and which was delivered the next Monday? I've waited over six months to be paid for scripts, nearly twenty times in 30 years, and I've waited a year more than once. How many regular folks come up with an idea for improving the product, give it to the boss, watch it make him $10 million, and get nothing, not even a freaking Christmas basket in thanks? How many, if the "idea" is a product, don't even get a free $10 sample of the product? (I've got a hundred episodes of TV on VHS and DVD and have not once even received a free copy of my own episodes, some of which by Guild estimates will earn the companies over $10 million each over their "useful lives.")

How many regular folks, working under these conditions, wouldn't complain? And if they wouldn't... Jesus Christ, why not?

I hang with maybe 20 other full-time writers - dinner parties, booze-ups, baby showers, etc. One of us makes over $200,000 a year, the rest make between $5,000 (really bad year; supportive parents, and he's in his 40s) and $80,000. We've all been doing it over 15 years; we've all got long lists of producers/networks who've screwed us, through loopholes the WGA is trying to close. You've seen our work, quoted our lines, worn t-shirts (and bought fridge magnets and hats and bumper stickers) with stuff on them we thought of... and of my 20 friends, only 3 have health insurance. Working for Disney for 8 months 3 years ago cost me and my son ours, because animation writing still isn't considered writing there, or at Nickelodeon.

We're regular folks whose work happens to benefit our employers more per employee than in almost any other business you could name.

I do love the thing about "can't the hosts write their own skits?" I've done 3 talk shows and could tell you tales of hosts who, though charming, can barely write their own names. Of sitcom stars (it's always the stars) who need a pronunciation guide on the 1st page of the script for the "difficult words" in it.

Lastly: the showrunners who get on the news during this strike, whose quotes make the papers, are comfortable -- for now, anyway (I was a showrunner for 7 years and now can't get that gig any more)but they're not striking for more $$ for _themselves_. We're not striking to increase the frigging MAXIMUMS. Everything the strike is about is to benefit the men and women making $5,000 this year. The famous writers are merely lending their support, in case their own kids or grandkids (or, God forbid, themselves 10 years down the road) find themselves on the less glamorous, less TV-newsworthy side of the business. Where you can work 3 months on something, get stiffed for payment, and have on-screen credit go to the producer's wife. It's happened to people I know, including to one guy who wasn't a big union supporter before it did.

Just a little perpective.

English Dave said...

Andrew - I think that summed it up rather nicely.

Anonymous said...

How many regular folks have Harvard degrees? Andrew's trying to position WGA members as just regular working stiffs, Joe and Jill Six-Pack, and it's just not so. Harvard Lampoon writers, people with USC degrees and MFAs litter writing rooms--and not because they just fell into writing after crewing on tramp steamers or working as chicken cleaners.

This is a educated workforce who feel entitled. If I'd spent $40,000 on a MFA, I'd feel entitled too. But a writer in his 40s who made $5000 last year needs a new career plan.