“Like how I dodge the whole ATA issue?” UTA CEO Jeremy Zimmer joked Wednesday at the Milken Institute Global Conference after the pitched battle between the WGA and the Association of Talent Agents over the lucrative practice of packaging was brought up.
Lamenting that he was probably driving his communications staff “crazy” and the “super softball” of being asked about the deep disconnect between the scribes guild and their now-fired agents, the agency exec then stated that he didn’t really understand “why we are arguing about this now.”
“It’s always been important and we think it should remain important,” Zimmer said of packaging, noting the fees paid out by studios and networks are a big part of “the overall revenues of the large agencies.”
“It’s our way of investing in programming we believe in,” the mega-agent asserted to the well-heeled audience, echoing his past statements, “and when those shows work, we make a lot of money and when they don’t, we lose money.”
Literally the last panel of this year’s big leaguers’ confab at the Beverly Hilton, Zimmer was joined onstage on the “Envisioning the Future of Media & Entertainment” panel by Starz COO Jeffery Hirsch; The Walking Dead executive producer + Valhalla Entertainment boss Gale Anne Hurd; MACRO CEO Charles D. King; and Asif Satchu, the co-CEO Valence Media & Media Rights Capital with moderator Julia Boorstin of CNBC.
Despite the off-roading into the now lawsuit-consumed WGA vs. ATA squall for a bit, the heavy-hitter panel was primarily consumed with the power and bottom line of Netflix.
“When you sell to Netflix now, that’s it,” point out Hurd, who has deals and shows all over the place from AMC, the home of TWD and its spinoffs, to Amazon and more. “What you get for your compensation for the each episode or the rights, that’s it,” the EP noted, in a shift from syndication and other cash possibilities that have dried up in the streaming world.
“Unless you are one of those amazing showrunners that got an overall deal and hundreds of millions of dollars, you would do better if you were with a more traditional network.”
While pioneering Netflix has been a magnetizing topic at Milken in past years, King noted today that the rise of streaming competitors like Apple, Disney+ and more “means more opportunities.”
“The world is shrinking in a big way and technology has made going global easy,” said Hirsch, looking at the piggybacking options that streamers and other digital platforms offer cablers.
However, not everyone agreed that all opportunity is created equal.
“It’s hard to have a show like Game of Thrones on Netflix, because everything gets dropped at once,” Zimmer said, referencing the big-spending and heavily indebted streamer’s approach to hit the reach of the weekly HBO blockbuster, currently in the back-end of its eighth and final season.
The mega-agent also floated alternative notions to the financial issues hitting writers and more out of the fenced-in nature of programming under which streamers function.
Postulating, “reinstituting some kind of backend,” Zimmer wondered if the streamers might become open as they mature to reselling shows to “secondary markets” after a long run on a streamer. The agent used the now wrapped up after six seasons House of Cards going to the likes of a CBS, as an potential example — though the possibilities and optics may be hard out of the numerous Kevin Spacey sexual assault allegations.
The UTA boss also wondered if there could be a “streaming royalty” from Netflix down the line. Linking to the increased transparency that Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos promised recently, Zimmer said he hoped creators, cast and scribes could receive “additional payment if they are on a show that a lot of people watch.”
It may be a notion that gets more discussion, as Zimmer told Hurd to a big laugh from the crowd that he happened “to have some time on my hands.”