March 1, 2007
First Round of Decisions in NBC Universal and WGA Spat Over Webisodes

The Webisode battles continue. Mark February 2007 as the first round of decisions in the battle between the Writers Guild of America and NBC Universal over how compensation should be handled in regard to Webisode product for the writing team that has to develop these new platform shows.

Last week, the National Labor Relations Board announced that it was rejecting an official complaint filed by NBC, as the company had complained that the decision by the writers to quit working on the Webisodes until a compensation agreement could be reached was unfair business practice.

Apparently, the NLRB finds the decision of the writers not to write ancillary content until the way they will be compensated is worked out to be on the up-and-up, so it looks like these decisions will be ongoing. In the meantime, the content for the Web platform has not significantly explored the viability of Webisodes for NBC because of this ongoing skirmish.

In the meantime, other shows have been more successful with getting Webisodes out, most recently CBS innertube's L.A. Diaries, a crossover between CBS soap operas As the World Turns and The Young and the Restless which I will write more about soon.

Over at TV Squad, Joel Keller points out that reports are conflicting, however, as to whether this is a "victory" for the WGA or not. "So, while NBCU technically lost, all they wanted from this case was for the WGA to admit that they didn't presure anyone, which is what they got."

His source for this revelation was Jim Benson's Broadcasting & Cable story. He writes, "NBCU may not argue with the NLRB's decision, since its primary concern had been that the guild would pressure hyphenate producer-writers who also act in a supervisor capacity to prevent non-WGAW members from writing original Web programming. The guild argued in the proceedings that it had never done that, which is all NBCU wanted in the first place, according to network sources."

Some of these issues are still waiting to be arbitrated, but let's hope that the NLRB decision indicates we are one step closer for getting the infrastructure in place to be able to expand the practice of transmedia storytelling in one of the biggest media conglomerates in the industry.

We have also covered the WGA's battle in relation to product placement, stating with the "Code of Conduct" for product placement co-written with the Screen Actor's Guild in December 2005. The product placement backlash continued into 2006, including a debate about the differences between product placement and product integration.

In August, I wrote about the struggle between the two groups over Webisodes. At the time, I wrote:

The previous WGA battles with networks and producers come from arguments for extra compensation for writers from the profits derived to their integrating products in a show. And, while the networks have a good arugment that, while the Web programming doesn't draw profit, it is really just a marketing tool, the writers also raise an important point--that creativity and good storytelling is the essential part of a successful transmedia experience and that writers deserve to be acknowledged and compensated for the extra work that Web content entails.

What we are calling convergence culture may be an inevitable media trend, but it doesn't mean that it's going to be a smooth transition to accepting and incorporating new media forms and new ways to tell a story, as these continued wars between writers, producers, and networks continue.

Let's hope we're one step closer to smoothing over this impasse.