Tag Archives: labor law

Money For Nuthin’ or Nick’s For Free

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AFTRA accused Nickelodeon of improperly negotiating talent revenue participation for the cable outlet outside of Nick’s shows. A copy of AFTRA’s purported letter to Nick (I couldn’t verify its authenticity) is here.

More specifically, AFTRA’s letter asserts that Nick requires “that the performer grant to the employer a right to a ‘profit participation’ interest in the talent’s third-party income as a condition of employment” in violation of AFTRA’s collective bargaining agreement and possibly California law.

I don’t think that AFTRA has a leg to stand on or they would have cited the applicable provisions of their agreement and the law chapter and verse. I suspect that Nick’s lawyers came to the same conclusion.

What is clear is that the major studios, networks and cable outlets are looking for the next Martha Stewart or, in Nick’s case, their answer to the Disney Channel’s “Hannah Montana”; building brands on the backs of the talent they break with the goal of cashing in on their success essentially forever.

While it’s difficult to empathize with the big entertainment companies, production costs are rising and viewership is more fragmented. As a result, they’re on a desperate search for new revenue streams.

I posted about this emerging deal point several months ago when the Food Network started asking for similar language in their talent agreements. With Nick now taking up the cause, a trend has developed and it won’t be long before the rest follow suit.

What was once an unreasonable “ask,” will become – if it isn’t already – business affairs policy unless talent reps develop the leverage to collectively reject it. However, with the potential millions to be made by breaking the next Miley Cyrus and a surplus of talented kids (and their parents) hoping to make it big, I doubt that’s possible.

Potential Breakthrough In Writers Guild Strike

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The Los Angeles Times and other news outlets reported over the weekend that the broad strokes of a deal between the AMPTP and the WGA could be in the offing as early as next Friday. The parties reportedly closed the gap over how much the studios should pay writers for free streaming of movies and television programs over the Internet. The parties still need to find a mutually agreeable distinction between content exploitation in which residuals would be payable and content promotion which would be residual-free.

The Directors Guild closed their deal over these issues last month but many striking writers (and SAG members) criticized that deal for not going far enough on streaming.

The breakthrough came when Bob Iger and Peter Chernin, the designated studio heads negotiating the deal, included more favorable streaming residuals than those in the DGA deal and separated rights for shows created for the Internet so writers receive extra compensation and credit for television shows based on online programming.

However, Guild leaders issued the following cautionary statement on Sunday morning:

To Our Fellow Members,

While fully mindful of the continuing media blackout, we write you to address the rumors and reports that undoubtedly you have been hearing.

The facts: we are still in talks and do not yet have a contract. When and if a tentative agreement is reached, the first thing we will do is alert our membership with an e-mail message. Until then, please disregard rumors about either the existence of an agreement or its terms.

Until we have reached an agreement with the AMPTP, it is essential that we continue to show our resolve, solidarity, and strength.

Picketing will resume on Monday. Our leverage at the bargaining table is directly affected by your commitment to our cause. Please continue to show your support on the line. We are all in this together.

Best,

Patric M. Verrone
President, WGAW

Michael Winship
President, WGAE

As I posted earlier, the break in the impasse here was the result of the principals fronting these discussions and negotiators likely ghost writing arguments for and against critical deal points. Sometimes, this approach is the only way to make meaningful progress in deal negotiations. Once Iger, Chernin, Verrone and Winship work out these broad strokes, the Guild’s rank and file still have to approve the deal. That would pave the way to resolving the strike and getting writers back to work in time to save pilot season and part of the fall television schedule (not to mention feature work) even if it takes months for labor negotiators to work out the details.

No Strike Waivers For TV Yet But Web Start Ups Tempt Writers

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Variety’s Dave McNary reported that the WGA rejected requests for strike waivers by the Golden Globes and Oscar telecasts today. While the Guild granted waivers during the strike in 1988, I doubt they will now- even to Letterman and Leno -until and unless meaningful negotiations resume for two reasons. Awards shows present a high profile opportunity to make an adverse and very public impact on the quality of these telecasts. Secondly, any waiver now, absent meaningful negotiations and in the face of mounting holiday debts for WGA members, may erode the widespread support of Guild members to the cause.

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The LA Times ran a story that striking writers are in talks with venture capitalists to finance and launch Internet start-up companies. “Silicon Valley investors historically have been averse to backing entertainment start-ups, believing that such efforts were less likely to generate huge paydays than technology companies.” There’s been a change in that perspective, albeit a limited one, after the success of Youtube. I’ve been involved in several of these deals. One started just before the strike and was in production as late as last week. They’re interesting opportunities on the cutting edge of where the entertainment business appears to be headed. However, without the right business model, these ventures will – if they go anywhere – lead to cross-over deals for TV programming rather than a big pay day for an Internet venture. It reminds me of Web 1.0′s icebox.com or my stint with Film Roman’s Level 13 back in the day. Despite the risks, more and more of my clients are migrating to the Internet, if not for the potential payoff then for a chance to broaden their experience and marketability down the road.

“Drinking From The Trough Of Distrust”

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That’s what I said as I cautioned the rep on the other side of recent negotiations unrelated to the WGA strike talks. I was sharing my very real concern that our negotiations were polarizing our respective clients and actually making it harder, if not impossible for us to close a deal.

Strike negotiators for both sides are well advised to conduct themselves accordingly. Dave McNary wrote in Variety that talks tanked late on Friday “after two weeks of bitter and unproductive negotiations” with no real sign of when or whether they will continue any time soon. Sounds pretty grim but maybe a holiday hiatus from hostilities (and several good nights’ of sleep, I suspect) will make for more productive negotiations. For a thorough breakdown of the issues, check here and here.

Prior to Friday’s “cratering,” Robert King, a member of the WGA Negotiating Committee, blogged prosaic on the state of negotiations and the current mindset of the parties this way:

Part of the problem of negotiations—and especially this negotiation—is that both sides tend to interpret the contractual proposals and counter-proposals in one way: as an attempt to fuck them. This is complicated by the fact that sometimes management’s proposals are designed to do exactly that; and sometimes they aren’t designed to do that, but might be used later by less enlightened souls to do that.

So dialogue, in a smaller room, with fewer people, and less of the theatrics of negotiations, allows everyone to discover what wasn’t designed to fuck; or was designed to protect against being fucked by someone else and has only the appearance of a personal fuck; what was inelegantly put; what has unintended consequences, etc. It’s also a place where language can be designed that satisfies everyone’s fears of being fucked.

In other words, sometimes there is the illusion of being farther apart than we actually are; and smaller side bar dialogue helps us discover if that’s indeed the case.

And then again there is just plain old being far apart.

Hopefully, this breather will allow cooler heads to prevail at the negotiating table. The studios and networks will start feeling the pinch from dwindling project reserves and the first stirrings of pilot season. By mid January, mounting financial pressures from holiday purchases and the lack of work will compel writers to return to the bargaining table. Maybe then, the parties will find creative ways to resolve the issues amicably and resourcefully.

And then again there is just plain old being too far apart.