On November 5, 2007 the Writer’s Guild of America East and the Writer’s Guild of America West initiated a strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (Cieply, 2007). The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) is a trade organization that represents the interests of 397 producers in the film and television industries (AMPTP Official Website). The strike lasted 100 days, finally ending on February 12, 2008. The strike put the economy of Los Angeles under severe strain with losses estimateds as high as $2.1 billion. The strike resulted from the regular renegotiation of standard contracts, or the Minimum Basic Agreement with the AMPTP. According to contract proposals from the Writers Guild of America (WGA)WGA, issues arose between the WGA Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the AMPTP over DVD residuals, union jurisdiction of animation and reality program writers, and compensation for digital technology called “‘new media” (WGA Contract 2007 Proposals).
Issues Behind the Strike
Three major issues dominated the contention between the WGA and the AMPTP. The first of these issues is was DVD residuals. Twenty years ago, the dominant media for the home viewer market was VHS tapes. When the industry standards for compensation were developed for this media, production costs for VHS tapes were high and the market for these tapes had not yet taken off. The agreement gave writers 0.3% of the first million reportable gross and 0.36% after the first million sold as residual. At first this was an acceptable arrangement as tapes were selling for between $40 and $100. However, the production technology improved, decreasing production costs. Writers, seeing this, felt short-changed in the arrangement. Even as DVD’s were introduced in the mid-1990s, this arrangement stayed in place and dictated compensation for DVD residuals as well. (Verrier, 2007)
In the negotiations, WGA expressed the importance of residuals as a source of income between periods of employment for writers and requested that the residual rates for DVD sales be doubled to 0.6% (WGA Contract 2007 Proposals). The AMPTP argued that the current formula of 0.3% remain in effect. They also wanted the same formula to apply to digital media. This digital media, also called “‘new media’” was another issue of contention in the strike. This “‘new media’” includes Internet downloads, digital telephone media, on-demand video programming, and Internet distributed media (Leopold, 2007). This is a new market and uncharted territory. The easy access to these media forms makes issues of compensation complicated. The AMPTP’s insistence that the old formula for residual compensation be applied to new media harkened back to the introduction of the arrangement as it applied to VHS and writer’s saw history repeating. Once again, despite seeing this “‘new media’” as the future of distribution, the AMPTP refused to bend to a new agreement due to its unfamiliar and uncharted nature (Internet Media Replacing Traditional Media, 2007 ).
The third major issue encompassed by the writer’s strike is was jurisdiction as it pertains to animated and reality-based media. Reality television, as a genre, has evolved significantly since its inception in the 1980s. In the beginning, shows that displayed “reality” were still scripted and focused on the display of real occurrences. Today, the reality television genre has become focused on the presentation of unscripted event sequences. The AMPTP argued that because of this, the Minimum Basic Agreement should not have any jurisdiction in the area of reality television because without scripts, there are no writers. The WGA counters countered that writers are responsible for the imagination of interesting scenarios that drive the show’s action.
Animation is another highly contested area. The Animation Guild has jurisdiction over animated media and thus the WGA’s Minimum Basic Agreement does...