WGA West members earned a record $1.68 billion under the guild’s film and TV contracts for the fiscal year ended March 31 – up 3.1% from the previous year, according to the guild’s latest annual report (read it here). In total, more than 6,300 writers reported employment in all work areas during the year.
Screenwriter earnings dipped 0.7% to $493.1 million, though the guild said that this figure is likely to increase with late reporting. Screenwriter employment rose by 4% to 2,188 writers reporting screen earnings. Earnings from television and digital platforms reported to the guild set a record, rising 4.7% to $1.17 billion. Total employment in this sector was up 3.2% from the prior year, with 5,118 writers reporting income from television and digital platforms, though the guild said that this figure is also likely to increase with late reporting.
The guild’s data, however, does not reflect TV writer-producers’ over-scale earnings — money that’s usually negotiated by their agents above the minimums contained in the guild’s Minimum Basic Agreement. Because of that, the data does not reflect the impact on the over-scale earnings of more than 7,000 writers who fired their agents in April 2019 when the WGA launched its ongoing campaign to realign the agency business and end packaging deals.
The increased TV and streaming earnings, the guild said, “reflect Guild-negotiated increases in MBA minimums and overall employment growth, driven in particular by the increase in original production for streaming services. Writer-producers report their weekly salary to the Guild at Article 14 minimum, meaning the Guild’s data regarding television and digital platform earnings does not reflect over-scale pay for writer-producers.”
“To address the downward pressure on writers’ over-scale income that Guild members have reported in recent years,” the guild noted that it had “negotiated a ‘span’ provision in the 2017 MBA, which helps to protect over-scale pay by applying a cap of 2.4 weeks of work to each episodic fee for many writer-producers working on shorter order series. In addition, the Guild’s campaign to realign agency incentives ensures that writers will have access to agencies that work to maximize over-scale pay.”
Earlier this month, the United Talent Agency became the first of the major packaging agencies to sign the guild’s agency franchise agreement, though the terms of the deal will allow it to continue packaging for two more years. Numerous mid-tier agencies that don’t do much packaging also have signed the guild’s new franchise agreement, meaning that many writers have now returned to their agencies. WME, CAA and ICM Partners, however, continue to hold out.
Residuals collected by the WGA in 2019 also grew to an all-time high of $471 million, a 1.9% increase over 2018. Residuals increased 1.4% in television and 2.7% in screen. Television continues to be the stronger area with $312 million in receipts, representing 66.2% of the total residuals collected in 2019. New media remains the largest residual category overall, with 30.5% of the total residuals collected. New media residuals were up 21.4% over last year, increasing from $118.17 to $143.47 million.
Foreign television residuals dropped 16.8% from last year, but is still the second largest area for television after new media at $49.37 million. Domestic syndication saw a 1.2% increase over 2018, and is the third largest market at $37.8 million, reaching a five-year high.
Made-for-basic cable residuals saw a 10.8% decrease in 2019 to $31.12 million, yet it is the fourth largest residuals market. Network prime time residuals saw a 1.6% decrease from last year to $19.88 million.
Home video residuals continued their spiraling decline to a mere $2.08 million, a decrease of 30.4% from last year and a 64.4% decrease over the last five years.
Total feature film residuals saw a gain of 2.7% over last year to $159.15 million. In 2019, new media residuals were the highest earning residuals category at $54.33 million for feature films, an increase of 22.9% over last year. Pay TV residuals are the second largest dollar category for film with a 4.6% drop from last year to $46.78 million. Worldwide television is the guild’s third largest feature film residuals category at $41.91 million, but posted a 1.6% drop from last year. As with television, home video residuals for film continue to decline, with a 14.4% decrease from 2018 to $12.85 million.
The guild’s Foreign Levies Program, meanwhile, distributed $14.9 million to writers and their heirs during the last fiscal year. The program currently collects royalties in 21 countries in Europe and South America.
As for the WGA West’s own finances, the report said the guild ended the fiscal year with total net assets of over $77.8 million, with an operating surplus for the fiscal year of $0.335 million, based on total revenues of $38.5 million, which were down from $42.9 million in the last fiscal year. “The decline in overall revenue is largely attributable to unrealized investment losses resulting from the pandemic-related declines in equity markets at the end of the fiscal year in March,” the guild said.
The guild’s annual expenditures of $38.2 million were higher than FY 2019’s total of $32.8 million, which the guild said “was the result of a number of factors: increased payroll and benefit expenses; higher depreciation expenses; the expenses related to member mobilization in connection with the 2020 MBA negotiations; and the Guild’s continued activities in connection with the talent agency campaign, including the development and launch of the WGA Staffing & Development Platform,” which was created to help agentless writers find jobs.
The WGA West, which is the only industry union to publish annual earnings reports, said “We publish this financial information each year in the interest of transparency and a fully informed membership.”
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