April 15, 2007
New York Times Previews Potential Upcoming Battle between Writers, Conglomerates

Last week, the New York Times had a great article about the potential upcoming battle between the writers guild and the entertainment industry as the writers unions for the Writes Guild of America, both East and West, will come down to what reporter MIchael Cieply calls "what are expected to be exceedingly difficult negotiations with the conglomerates that own the networks and studios."

According to the article, the major points of contention for the negotiations between the union and the industry this time around will be "the expansion of nonunion work by units of large media conglomerates like Viacom and News Corporation, and the way artists will be compensated for their work on the Web, mobile devices and other technologies still falling into place."

WGA West President Patric Verrone said that 95 percent of Hollywood's writing jobs for television and major films were covered by guild writers in the mid-1980s, as compared to about 55 percent now as companies use nonguild writers for reality television, animated TV, and other shows.

I've written multiple times in the past about this showdown between media companies and their writers when it comes to issues such as product placement and compensation for transmedia extensions. The companies claim that they cannot set a regular standard in place as long as it is not completely clear what the value of these costs will be, and there is still some degree of debate as to whether mobile and online episodes of a show should be considered content or promotion, since many shows are considering them the latter at this point.

Back in December, ABC's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip dramatized this battle, as network executives wanted to force product integration on the writing team of the fictional comedy show. I wrote, "A sketch comedy environment is an interesting place to test out these questions, and I thought Studio 60 did it well, with the producer standing up for the show and against the infiltration of commercial elements until he found an organic way to make the products part of a new set for the show reflecting the real strip. "

But, while a perfect answer might be so easily found in the fictional world of Aaron Sorkin, the very real upcoming negotiations between the guilds and the conglomerates could have a lasting impact on many of the behaviors we write about as "convergence."

In late February, the NBC Universal/WGA battle saw its latest development, as the National Labor Relations Board rejected NBC's official complaint regarding writers' refusal to work on Webisodes until a compensation agreement could be reached. I wrote, "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."

The Times article gives a great profile of who will be one of the major players in this upcoming battle, Verrone, and the article serves as a stark reminder that, as we write about the narrative promise of transmedia storytelling, the industry is far from a standard to incorporate this type of media extension. Until the infrastructure is in place, the type of behaviors we write about here on a regular base will not be normalized.

Thanks to Lynn Liccardo for passing this along.