Matthew Garrahan, Los Angeles Correspondent for the Financial Times, just emailed me an early look at his interview with WGAW prez Patric Verrone publishing Friday. Verrone hinted the WGA is prepared to budge on its demand for reality TV writers to be covered by the new pay deal. “It’s not a sticking point . . . there is room to negotiate.” He also issued a stark warning to U.S. media companies that writers and audiences will migrate to the internet in the event of a prolonged strike. He said the dispute was creating “entrepreneurial possibilities for the talent community to go directly into production and distribution. With every day that goes by, our members are exploring internet TV. The ability to explore this business without media conglomerates is becoming a real possibility.”
Verrone said, “We are prepared to bargain. But the ability to do that is limited by [the media companies] not being at the table.” Interestingly, Verrone gave the newspaper no hint that the WGA was filing an unfair labor complaint with the NLRB against the media companies. “Sitting in his office, a stone’s throw from the CBS studio lot, Mr Verrone, who once wrote for Johnny Carson and The Simpsons, hints the WGA is prepared to budge on its demand for reality TV writers to be covered by the new pay deal. “It’s not a sticking point . . . there is room to negotiate.” The real reason for the breakdown in talks, he says, was the reluctance of the studios and TV networks to agree a pay formula for work by writers that is streamed free on the internet. “We are trying to do a deal that allows [writers] to keep up with the future, and [the media companies] are not,” he says. Talks last week yielded a “tiny bit of movement on streaming. But then we were given an ultimatum that we had to take other issues off the table”.
The union had initially called for a doubling of the payments writers receive from the sale of each DVD. However, Mr Verrone says the WGA took the DVD proposal “off the table in an effort to make a deal on New Media and avoid a strike . . . we took it off and now we’re being told to take off six other things”. These included a “fair market value” test for writers’ earnings on content sold between in-house entities owned by the same media company. The test is “essential to dealing with vertically integrated [media] companies”, says Mr Verrone. The AMPTP has rejected the proposal, though, calling it unworkable. The WGA also wants writers’ share of new media revenues to be based on a distributor’s gross formula rather than the producer’s gross. Verrone says he will fight to get a formula based on distributor’s gross – if the AMPTP ever comes back to the table.