Total earnings for WGA West members hit an all-time high of $1.56 billion for the fiscal year ended March 31 – up 4.2% from the previous year, according to the guild’s latest annual report. Earnings have topped the $1 billion mark for seven years in a row.
Guild members scored record earnings in film and television, and in residuals, as well. Altogether, 6,057 writers reported employment under the guild’s contracts over the past year – down 0.6% from last year’s record high of 6,095.
Earnings from television and digital platforms topped $1 billion for the second year in a row, coming it at nearly $1.07 billion – up 3% from the prior year. Total employment was down 1.5% from 2017, however, with 4,830 writers reporting income from television and digital platforms, though the guild said that this figure is likely to increase with late reporting.
Screenwriter earnings and employment continued to rebound in 2018, with 2,040 writers reporting $481 million in earnings – up 7.2% from the prior year’s screen earnings.
Residuals collected by the WGA in 2018 grew to a record high of $462.37 million – a 7.2% increase over 2017. Residuals increased 10.6% in television and 1.1% in screen – with new media reuse now the single biggest source of TV writers’ residuals, coming in at just under $76.5 million last year – up nearly 263% from 2013. This has largely made up for the dying home video market, which generated only $15 million for screenwriters – down 46% since 2013 – and less than $3 million in residuals for TV writers this year – down 56% from 2013. Primetime network residuals remain relatively flat at $20 million.
See the full report here.
Despite the good news, the report notes that the increased earnings are largely the result of its negotiated increases in MBA minimums and overall employment growth. The earnings data doesn’t reflect what the guild says has been a downward trend in recent years in the overscale pay of TV writer-producers – which the guild blames on the conflicted interests of talent agents. The WGA and the Association of Talent Agents are currently involved in a protracted battle over the guild’s demands that agencies give up packaging fees and sever their ties to affiliated production entities.
“Writer-producers report their weekly salary to the Guild at Article 14 minimum, meaning the Guild’s data regarding television and digital platform earnings is generally based on MBA minimums,” the report states. “For this reason, these figures do not reflect the downward pressure on writers’ overscale income as a result of short season orders and other changes in the television and digital media industry. WGA surveys conducted in recent years documented a 23% decline in the media weekly compensation for writer-producers between the 2013–14 and 2015–16 seasons. During the 2017–18 season, median weekly compensation improved slightly compared to 2015–16, but remains 16% lower than in 2013–14. To address declining weekly compensation, the WGA negotiated the “span” provision in the 2017 MBA (Article 14.K.2) that regulates the episodic compensation of TV and digital platform writer-producers. For contracts entered into beginning May 2, 2018, writers at the producer level on series staffs have a cap of 2.4 weeks of work per episode that their episodic fee pays for. The limit applies to series with episode orders of 12 or fewer episodes on broadcast television, and 14 or fewer episodes on pay, basic cable, the CW and subscription video on demand platforms. Additionally, these rules apply only to writers whose episodic fee for the number of episodes ordered is less than $350,000.”
The report doesn’t specifically blame agents for this, noting only that “On April 13, 2019, the WGAW implemented a new Code of Conduct for agencies that represent writers for working under its collective bargaining agreements. WGAW members may only be represented by agencies signed to the Code of Conduct.” The WGA East and West last reported that more than 7,000 writers had fired their agents who refused to sign the Code.
The guild said that it “remains financially strong, with growing revenues and a healthy operating surplus,” ending the fiscal year with total net assets of over $77.5 million.