Writers Strike Ends with Historic Gains for Streaming Residuals and AI Limitations

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) announced on Wednesday that its members have ratified a new three-year contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), ending a 148-day strike that had paralyzed the entertainment industry.

The new contract, which covers more than 13,000 writers working in film, television, and digital media, includes significant improvements in streaming residuals, limitations on the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in writing, minimum staffing requirements for writers rooms, and increased health and pension contributions.

Streaming Residuals

One of the main issues that led to the strike was the disparity between the residuals paid to writers for their work on streaming platforms and those paid for traditional broadcast and cable networks. Residuals are payments that writers receive when their work is reused or exhibited on different platforms, such as DVDs, syndication, or online streaming.

Under the previous contract, streaming residuals were based on a fixed formula that did not take into account the actual viewership or revenue of the streaming service. This meant that writers were paid the same amount regardless of how popular or profitable their work was on streaming platforms.

The new contract introduces a success-based residual system that ties the residuals to the viewership of the streaming service. Writers will receive a bonus equal to 50% of the fixed domestic and foreign residual if their work is viewed by 20% or more of the service’s domestic subscribers in the first 90 days of release, or in any subsequent exhibition year. The bonus will be calculated based on the hours streamed domestically of the season or film divided by its runtime.

For example, projects written under the new deal on the largest streaming services would receive a bonus of $9,031 for a half-hour episode, $16,415 for a one-hour episode, or $40,500 for a streaming feature over $30M in budget.

The new contract also increases the foreign residuals by 76%, based on the streaming service’s number of foreign subscribers. Additionally, the studios will provide the WGA with detailed information on the viewership of each show, including the total number of hours streamed worldwide.

AI Limitations

Another major issue that sparked the strike was the growing use of AI in writing and rewriting literary material. AI is a technology that can generate text based on natural language processing and machine learning algorithms. Some studios have been using AI to create scripts, pitches, outlines, treatments, and other materials for their projects, without crediting or compensating the writers who originally created them.

The new contract imposes strong limitations on the use of AI in writing. According to the contract:

  • AI cannot write or rewrite literary material, and AI-generated material will not be considered source material.
  • A writer can choose to use AI when writing services. It cannot be required.
  • Studios must disclose to the writer if any materials given to the writer have been made by AI or incorporate AI-generated material.
  • The WGA reserves the right to assert that exploitation of writers’ material to train AI is prohibited by the agreement or other law.

These provisions aim to protect the creative rights and economic interests of writers from being undermined by AI.

Other Gains

The new contract also includes several other gains for writers in various areas, such as:

  • Minimum writers room staffing: The contract requires that at least one staff writer be employed for every 2.5 hours of scripted content produced for high-budget subscription video-on-demand (HBSVOD) services. This ensures that writers have adequate opportunities to work and learn in writers rooms.
  • Guaranteed compensation and 13-week minimums for Comedy/Variety writers in streaming: The contract guarantees that Comedy/Variety writers working for HBSVOD services will receive at least $6,000 per week and will be employed for at least 13 weeks per year. This provides stability and security for Comedy/Variety writers who often face short-term and low-paid contracts.
  • Guaranteed 2-step deals for screenwriters: The contract guarantees that screenwriters will receive at least two steps (drafts) when they are hired to write a feature film for any market. This prevents studios from hiring screenwriters for only one step and then replacing them with another writer.
  • Guarantee that writers be kept on through production: The contract guarantees that writers will be kept on through production when they are hired to write a feature film or pilot for any market. This ensures that writers have creative input and control over their work until it is completed.
  • Individual P&H contributions for writing teams: The contract requires that each member of a writing team receive individual health and pension contributions based on their share of compensation. This prevents writing teams from being disadvantaged by splitting their contributions among themselves.
  • Script fees for staff writers: The contract requires that staff writers receive script fees in addition to their weekly salary when they write a script for any market. This recognizes the value and contribution of staff writers to the final product.

Conclusion

The new contract represents a historic victory for the WGA and its members, who fought for fair and equitable terms in the rapidly changing and expanding streaming market. The contract also sets a precedent for other unions and guilds in the entertainment industry, who may face similar challenges and opportunities in the future.

The WGA thanked its members for their solidarity and support during the strike, and expressed its gratitude to the AMPTP for reaching a mutually beneficial agreement. The new contract will take effect on January 1, 2024, and will expire on December 31, 2026.

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