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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

In case you're wondering where the AMPTP would like to go in all this, MTV recently reduced health benefits for its "permalancers" -- un-unionized workers who are hired as freelancers to work permanently. They just walked out to protect the benefits cuts.

Ultimately the WGA is not only striking over residuals cuts. They are striking to protect everything they have won over the past fifty years. Current management attitude is "you'll take what we give you and you'll thank us for it." Their goal in this strike is to break the union. If they had their way, there would be no minimums and no health benefits ... just like it is for MTV.

Some members of the craft unions wish the WGA would cave so they could go back to work. "We don't get residuals" they say. Actually, they do -- 55% of their health benefits come from residuals. The truth is the AMPTP would like to dispense with both residuals and health benefits for writers and everybody else. If the WGA caves, SAG and the DGA won't be seeing much from the Internet either.

It's a short-sighted attitude. I've written before how residuals keep experienced writers like Marc Cherry and David Chase in the business during dry spells, which can go on for years. Health benefits keep them and their families from having to panic over health problems. Paying fairly, protecting workers from health disasters, and allowing employees to share in the successes helps cultivate a pool of crafted employees.

But the AMPTP is not being led by the people who hire the most WGA members. It's being led by the ones who have the fewest scripted programs. The AMPTP has set itself up so that the entity with the least to lose -- say Time Warner -- can veto a deal that the others would be willing to agree to. That's quite a bit of moral hazard, especially since a strike would leave some studios crippled enough that Time Warner can buy them up cheap afterwards.

In the old days, after a strike went on for long enough, Lew Wasserman walked into the negotiating room and told the studios to get off their high horse and cut a deal. The WGA will stand firm because it has to -- there's no future in giving in to terrorism. The AMPTP seriously needs its heads conked together by someone, or we're going to lose a season of TV and maybe even a summer of movies. That doesn't help anybody.

Who's going to conk the heads? Maybe advertisers. Here's a page of links to campaigns to let advertisers know you're sick of management's greedy attitude that's robbing you of your TV shows. Nothing will convince the AMPTP to stop posturing and start really negotiating like a bunch of advertisers asking for their money back.

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Maybe the WGA could do worse than to marshal a few of its visionaries into a working party to look at future options for creator-owned content. There'll surely never be a better opportunity to get the industry's top minds in a room together. Might even give the AMPTP a wakeup call, but that's not the point. There are genuine lessons in the way that comics, music and games distributors have had to embrace creator-owned content to stay in the game. And there's an argument that today's internet-savvy enthusiasts are the beta-testers of the way we'll all program our viewing in five years' time.

By Blogger Stephen Gallagher, at 8:45 AM  

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