February 12, 2008
Ending the WGA Strike

News came over the weekend that the WGA strike seemed to be reaching an end, with the Guild approving a tentative contract and rumors that the writers could be back at their keyboards as early as Wednesday. It seems that both the studios and many writers, not to mention television viewers, are delighted at the prospect of new episodes, after the endless stretch of reruns and reality shows that has been dominating TV in recent months.

At C3, we've been following the strike fairly closely, with a discussion of its historical context in the blog last November and continuing discussions with striking writers and producers in class and at the FoE2 conference.

Personally, since I get all of my TV content online regardless, I spent the time catching up on shows I've been meaning to watch: BSG, FNL, Ugly Betty, and a delightful Korean drama about a cross-dressing barista. But even I'm ready to get back on track, especially after the painful experience of watching the Golden Globes with my fellow C3ers, which was so traumatizing that none of us have managed to recover enough to blog about it.

The terms of the agreement were based loosely on the Director's Guild agreement a couple of weeks ago, with some key differences in new media. You can see a breakdown of the new media terms as well as a copy of the draft deal at paidcontent.org.

The most notable gain was an agreement for 2% of the distributor's gross for ad-supported online streaming starting in the third year (there is a fixed residual for the first two years). Additionally, made-for-new-media original content will be covered in the deal regardless of budget, whereas the DGA deal had a budget minimum on derivative new media content that it would cover.

After a quick glance at some of the terms, it would appear that a good deal of traditional media issues, such as cable, were backgrounded in favor of bigger wins in new media. For instance, the 2% of the distributor's gross residual applies only to network TV, and cable shows will be streamed for a fixed residual only. Demands regarding animation and reality TV were dropped completely.

According to Deadline Hollywood Daily, WGAW president Patric Verrone stated at a news conferences that "the legacy of the '88 strike was the ability of the companies to develop content without writers and creators. The legacy of this strike will be the ability of writers and creators to develop content without the companies," suggesting that new media is providing new ways to fund and distribute content, a rhetoric that made an appearance during the advertising panel at FoE2 this year and seems increasingly plausible as more and more people watch original "amateur" content online.

And, while I agree that we are shifting towards new models of media production and distribution, I can't help but be wary of what this might mean in more immediate future, given that the process of creating new business models and negotiating territory with already establish content-producing online communities will likely still take some time. And, as Eleanor Baird argues in her posts yesterday (see here and here), the shift of TV to new media is not yet a forgone conclusion.

As much as I'd like to think everyone's TV viewing habits mirror mine, I have to admit that I'm probably still in a relative minority. I can't help but wonder if this contract, and its focus the long term effects of new media on film and television, will raise further problems in the short term.