2/09/2008

The Initial Streaming Window

This was submitted by WGA member and StrikeSwag founder Tom Smuts.

Based on blog comments and conversations I've had, many members seem to think that the so-called "Initial Streaming Window" is just another way for the Companies to screw the Writers. It isn't. Not in principle, anyway.

In principle, it's a way for the Companies to capture some of the audience that would have watched the show when it aired if they weren't working, exercising or changing diapers. It's a way to acknowledge that the erosion of network audiences is due, at least in part, to the viewer's desire to control when they watch a show. And whether a viewer does this by recording the show on Tivo (a use for which we don't seek an extra payment) or watching it online in the Initial Streaming Window, the principle that Companies should not pay writers twice for a show's initial audience is a reasonable one.

Some members I've spoken with believe that the Companies will create elaborate schemes to evade this residual. They imagine the Companies streaming shows for 17 days, yanking them until they've been rung dry in the DVD market, and then putting them back online only after 99% of their value has been sucked away. Being married to a show creator and having worked on the business side of a TV company (Fox TV Studios), I have a disgusted admiration for how the Companies shamelessly and acrobatically manipulate the numbers. But I doubt they're going to manipulate the distribution of online content in this way for one simple reason: the audience won't let them.

On the internet, audiences want what they want, when they want, where they want. There is no easy way to accommodate this new reality in a residual framework built for a world in which the Companies told the audiences when and where they could watch a show. Audiences want and will increasingly demand to decide this for themselves. Ultimately, television shows will be online forever from the day they first air on TV.

Under the terms of this deal (as I understand them), the WGA has established the principle that its members will be paid a percentage of distributor's gross for the overwhelming majority of viewers who watch a show in its second window. It is a point Nick Counter vowed we would not win. And it's a testament to our strength as a union that we achieved it.

For this and other reasons, I support the deal and our leadership's authority to continue representing us in this negotiation, including their authority to make a decision to end the strike with or without a vote.

But a vote is better, and I hope the leadership gives the membership that opportunity.

-- Tom Smuts

12 comments:

Link said...

Anyone who believes this crap is no better than the mindless drones that never question the government. This large window is a very, very bad idea.

T said...

"a testament to our strength as a union that we achieved it."

Tom, put away your sugar coating and pull out your calculator. “Distributor’s Gross” is meaningless if there is a cap. Who cares what percentage we get, if it’s capped off at $1,200 or even $2400? This is a rate far, far worse than even the reviled DVD formula. At least in that case, the writer gets a per unit residual. A capped download residual is essentially a “buyout.” This is the massive rollback we all feared, no matter what positive spin is put on it.

MrKlaatu said...

"Under the terms of this deal (as I understand them), the WGA has established the principle that its members will be paid a percentage of distributor's gross for the overwhelming majority of viewers who watch a show in its second window. It is a point Nick Counter vowed we would not win. And it's a testament to our strength as a union that we achieved it."

Sadly, your understanding is wrong. In years one and two of the contract, the residual is fixed. In year three it is based on a percentage of an "imputed value" and is therefore also fixed. We did not achieve a percentage of distributor's gross during the entire first year a show streams.

tom said...

t and Mrklaatu -

If the "imputed value" becomes a defacto cap on residuals, I expect the WGA's then-leadership to fight for the principle we established here - a residual based on 2% of distributor's gross. The point remains: our efforts and these negotiations established a principle Nick Counter vowed we wouldn't get. The inevitably bloody ground war to enforce that principle is the ground war that now begins.

Dorkman said...

Under the terms of this deal (as I understand them), the WGA has established the principle that its members will be paid a percentage of distributor's gross for the overwhelming majority of viewers who watch a show in its second window

What mrklaatu said, along with the fact that the overwhelming majority of viewers will watch a show within its first 5 days online, and the majority of THEM within the first 24 hours.

whatyouknow said...

A promotional window period is not inherently reasonable if and when it's tied to an initial broadcast. In the old days reruns were far separate from the original airing and were often viewed a second time by the original viewers. But viewership patterns are different now; people don't rush home to see a show in its original broadcast. A person who views the program in that 17 day window is most likely to be someone who didn't catch it on the original broadcast. We're in a transitional period now, where distribution of TV programs is becoming more and more like that of films (or even magazines), in which the product becomes available on a particular day and date, then remains available in that platform until the initial run is played out. So it's not necessarily wrong or unfair to view TV programs as if the initial 17 days, or whatever, is the initial release, which comes in the form of a broadcast followed by available downloads. Now, of course, that's not to say there's not weasels afoot in the phrasing or the accounting, but on pure principle it's not an unreasonable concept.

whatyouknow said...

A promotional window period is not inherently reasonable if and when it's tied to an initial broadcast. In the old days reruns were far separate from the original airing and were often viewed a second time by the original viewers. But viewership patterns are different now; people don't rush home to see a show in its original broadcast. A person who views the program in that 17 day window is most likely to be someone who didn't catch it on the original broadcast. We're in a transitional period now, where distribution of TV programs is becoming more and more like that of films (or even magazines), in which the product becomes available on a particular day and date, then remains available in that platform until the initial run is played out. So it's not necessarily wrong or unfair to view TV programs as if the initial 17 days, or whatever, is the initial release, which comes in the form of a broadcast followed by available downloads. Now, of course, that's not to say there's not weasels afoot in the phrasing or the accounting, but on pure principle it's not an unreasonable concept.

Steve Lichtman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve Lichtman said...

Klaatu, I don't think you have it quite right.

"In years one and two of the contract, the residual is fixed." No. In years one and years two of the new WGA MBA, t.v. shows then in their first broadcast season receive a fixed residual for their first year of ad-supported streaming. In years one and two of the new WGA MBA - - i.e., starting as soon as we ratify the agreement - - - and forever after - - - writers of library titles and episodes of shows still on the air but beyond their debut season receive 2% of distributor's gross. NOT FIXED. WITH NO CAP. WITH NO IMPUTED VALUE. It's 2%, no ifs, ands or buts.

"In year three it is based on a percentage of an "imputed value" and is therefore also fixed." Not quite. In year three of the new WGA MBA, t.v. shows then in their first broadcast season receive the percentage of an imputed value. But library titles, and shows still on the air but beyond their debut season receive 2% of real distributor's gross. Again, not fixed, no caps, no imputed values.

"We did not achieve a percentage of distributor's gross during the entire first year a show streams." That is mostly right. But the principle is established by year 3 of this MBA that we receive 2% of distributor's gross as soon as the initial streaming window (17/24 days) passes.

And with our right to see the AMPTP's books, we'll know what the real numbers are that we should be participating in.

bacci40 said...

ummm...do sag members ever watch online streaming?

tivo cuts out commercials...online, the commercials are embedded

unlike tv where i can walk away or just not pay attention to a commercial, online, to get to the next part, i must watch

hey, if you guys dont want to get paid for the shows that get streamed...no biggie

but when you all discover just how much the networks made, and that they didnt share anything with the creators or the hourly guys...boy are you gonna be pissed

ama said...

Sure audiences want what we want when we want it. But it doesn't mean we're going to pay for it. You're completely ignoring piracy, which is essentially impossible to get rid of. For every trick some engineer tries that works for the media industry there are 12 engineers consuming mass quantities of Mountain Dew who will find a way to undo it.

To expect the studios to combat the piracy at their own cost is ridiculous. They are relying on a group of the population not tech-savvy enough to download things for free. It's not a bad way to go, even Bill Gates does it with MS programs. But the reality is even if you take down one site, another one springs up. Call it digital terrorism, call it whatever you want. But it simply means writers won't get the residuals during the height of the opportunity.

I'm really glad to see there are people who seem to understand this. I love the writers, entertainment should not be undervalued whether it is tv or theater or books.

And this is coming from a member of your audience, who has despite spending three months wondering whether George and Izzie are through or if Sylar is going to get his ass kicked once and for all, still wants to see the WGA make them pay.

MAKE THEM PAY. They can afford it. Can you afford to let them bend you over the negotiation table?

By the WGA understanding and knowing as much about the future of technology, there is less chance they can find a way to screw you in a more painful way than the way they will find to screw you.

Good luck!

P.S. When you get back to writing, please have had something fatal happen to Lexi Grey. This would be a nice consolation prize for the waiting.

Luzid said...

@ ama:

Indeed. I can't understand why "writers get their cut when their work earns others *any* money, period" is a concept many writers seem willing to suddenly give up on entirely (which is what will happen if they allow a window wherein ad-supported streaming will make the studios money).