So, what does the DGA deal potentially mean for writers? Depends on which email you read first in your inbox. Jonathan Tasini of Working Life (published by Labor Research Association, a New York City-based labor advocacy organization) examines the specifics of the deal point by point.
He states "there are some good things here but also some areas of concern." Three of those areas of concern are the thresholds for union coverage of new media content, the electronic sell-through offer and ad-supported streaming windows. Below are some excerpts.
Original Content for New Media
The DGA deal point states that original content for New Media will be covered "above $15,000/minute or $300,000/program or $500,000/series, whichever is lowest. Original content below the threshold will be covered when a DGA member is employed in the production."
The industry is precisely moving to a lower-cost structure--doesn't that sound familiar? It's the "kid-in-the-garage" problem--content coming from everywhere and everyone. As I described it in a panel discussion I just spoke at this week, it's similar to the off-shoring of work in manufacturing. You have the world of the WGA, where the standards are decent, with wages, health care and pensions. And, then, you have Big Mediastan--that would be the world where there is no union, where there are no residuals, no pensions, no health care. The above provision agreed to by the DGA seems--seems--to allow the growth of Big Mediastan. As an aside: it is one reason I believe that a critical component of the WGA's future--and that of the Screen Actors Guild--is to focus intensely on organizing the young kids today who are cranking out material using IMovie and other software. The unions have to get those younger--and older people--who are now producing content into the union now so that they don't become this mass of unorganized, low-wage labor that has no connection to the labor movement.
If the WGA agreed to those terms, it would basically be giving up on an important issue: union jurisdiction.
Therein lies the tough fight that all unions face: how do you convince current member to fight for the rights of members in the future? The answer is: you have to be able to show that organizing new members and broadening the reach of the union is critical to keeping the union's power what it is--and being able to bargain with strength ten and twenty years down the road. It's hard--when you've been out on strike for many weeks, any worker will feel, "damn, let's take the best deal for the present...who knows what will happen later?" But, I can guarantee one thing--if the union jurisdiction shrinks, you, buddy, will be in deep shit down the road.
Electronic Sell-Through (Paid Downloads)
While the DGA deal announces that the new rate "More than doubles the rate currently paid by the employers on television programming to .70% above 100,000 units downloaded," Tasini isn't as enthusiastic, writing:
My take: this sounds good. Wow, you get double!!! But, as I remember from high-school math, double of zero is zero. Okay, it's not that bad. But, recall, that the formula of .3 percent was the pathetic rate that was being paid out based on the bad deal shoved down the throats of the creators in the 1980s over videocassettes and, then carried over into the DVD era. In my opinion, this sets a producer-friendly standard that will be hard to break.
The DGA agreed to a "17-day window (24-day window for series in their first season).
Pays 3% of the residual base, approximately $600 (for network prime time 1-hour dramas), for each 26-week period following 17-day window, within first year after initial broadcast. Pays 2% of distributor's gross for streaming that occurs more than one year after initial broadcast."
My take: I don't particularly think this is great shakes, either. Basically, the producers get a residual-free window for ad-supported streaming--i.e., they get all the money--for the time period when the product is most valuable. We all understand that, right? First-run gets the most eyeballs. Creators, then, get to scrape for a smidgen of a much smaller pie.
For more opinions on the DGA deal and what it does/could/might mean for writers, check out the following:
* Two columns by writer Mark Evanier here and here
* A column by attorney Jonathan Handel
* This Huffington Post piece by Robert J. Elisberg
* This piece on Artful Writer by John Wells