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Online TV Streaming Becoming a Serious Issue

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Variety is reporting that NBC Universal, owner of Battlestar Galactica, The Office, and upcoming drama Heros has filed a complaint against the Writers Guild of America for their insistence that writers not participate in duties for the creation of 'webisodes', essentially miniature television shows produced and broadcast solely for the Internet.

Competing network ABC had originally planned to shut out union workers for its webisode project titled "Lost Video Diaries" last year, but when the writers, actors, and directors for the show itself threatened not to support the project if non-union talent was used, ABC gave in. Those writers/directors/actors are now operating under their respective guild negotiated contracts, and are receiving minimum wages, pension and health care contributions. NBC has apparently not learned from ABC's mistakes.
The network filed the complaint Wednesday with the Natl. Labor Relations Board, asserting that the WGA's actions are illegal because the Peacock has an existing deal that allows it to ask TV producers to produce made-for-Internet content for four shows it owns
NBC's delusion notwithstanding, there are no WGA contracts covering made-for-Internet content specifically, only made-for-tv content broadcast online. The WGA is undoubtedly positioning itself to add made-for-Internet content rights to the next collective bargaining agreement, due to be negotiated sometime next year. It is believed by many that the Writers Guild is eager to fight for increased DVD residuals, among many other issues, and is more than willing to strike to get what it wants. Last years contract negotiations saw no gains at all for the Guild, and eventually was simply a renewed version of the previous contract. The WGA President who oversaw those negotiations, a former network executive, has since been replaced. (Variety)

CBS is also making itself a target of the WGA with its plans to begin streaming many of its high-profile shows such as CSI online. CBS did not notify any of the guilds of its plans, and claims it has every right not to do so. At question now is whether or not CBS plans to pay residual fees for the episodes, and if it does not, all three of the major guilds, the Writers Guild of America, Screen Actors Guild, and Directors Guild of America are all set to begin contract negotiation within a year of each other.
It's been a similar story following other advances, mostly notably Walt Disney Co.'s October announcement that it planned to sell TV shows via Apple's iTunes Music Store. The guilds complained that they weren't notified in advance and said that they expected to be compensated at pay TV rates, which are four times higher than homevideo rates.

Five months later, when the first batch of residual checks were due, Disney paid at the homevid rate.
If CBS and these other companies keep screwing around, they could find themselves facing a triple-strike in the near future when the WGA, DGA, and SAG contracts all expire. All three guilds can apply collective pressure on CBS and all the other networks at the exact same time, and there will only be one real opportunity to set fair payment terms for online content before this market explodes. None of the unions wants to have a repeat of the DVD debacle. (Variety)
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The text of this article is Copyright © 2006,2007 Paul William Tenny. All rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Attribution by: full name and original URL. Comments are copyrighted by their authors and are not subject to the Creative Commons license of the article itself.