Restrictions on AI use, minimum occupancy in TV writers’ rooms, and an audience-based streaming bonus.
Those are among the many deal points in the Writers Guild of America’s tentative three-year contract agreement with studios and streamers, details of which were released to union members on Tuesday. The long-awaited pact also includes provisions establishing a second “step” for screenwriting deals, higher foreign residuals and annual minimum wage increases of 5 percent, 4 percent and 3.5 percent over the life of the contract.
When it comes to rapidly developing AI technology, the union has offered protections against AI that captures or rewrites original material under the MBA or is used as “source material” to adapt. Writers can still use AI as a tool if the company they work for allows it; However, they cannot be required to use it and companies must disclose whether they provide AI-generated material to writers during the writing process. In addition, “the WGA reserves the right to assert that the exploitation of writer’s materials to train AI is prohibited by the MBA or other laws,” the union said in its summary of the 2023 MBA.
A key and difficult priority for the union in this bargaining cycle has been tying compensation to the success of streaming shows – the union proposed “establishing a viewership-based residual – in addition to the existing fixed residual – to allow programs with larger viewership reward” and to “require transparency about program visions.” The compromise with studios was establishing a new residual that would reward projects that are “viewed by 20% or more of the service’s domestic subscribers in the first 90 days of release, or in the first 90 days of a subsequent exhibition year.” Films and series made for SVOD would receive a bonus of 50 percent of the fixed domestic and foreign residual once they reach that benchmark, resulting in bonuses of $9,031 for a half-hour episode on major streaming services and $40,500 for a streaming feature with a budget of over $30 million.
In terms of streaming transparency, the compromise was limited. The union will have confidential access to “the total number of hours streamed, both nationally and internationally, of high-budget, self-produced streaming programs (e.g., a Netflix original series)” and “may share information in aggregate form with its members” – with other words, there will be a bit more transparency, but the streaming services aren’t exactly opening up their trove of data for public consumption.
In terms of minimum room size, the guild in May requested a minimum of six writers and one additional writer for every two episodes thereafter, with a maximum of twelve in the room for scripted programs ordered before the series. The tentative agreement includes a minimum staff size of three writer-producers for a first-season show for development spaces that run for 20 weeks or longer, with an additional season formula tied to the number of episodes. The minimum room size was one of the trickiest issues during the five-month work stoppage, as showrunners previously could determine the size of their writing staff. The WGA pushed for minimum room size requirements in an effort to prevent studios and streamers from using artificial intelligence to cut costs on writers. Other wins included span – the length of time writers will commit to scripted shows – with development spaces now guaranteed at least ten consecutive weeks, while post-greenlight spaces secure twenty weeks or the duration of the space. These terms apply to seasons where the first episode was written after December 1, 2023, meaning pre-existing programs do not have to meet room size or span requirements.
The WGA went on strike demanding a cumulative 16 percent increase in residuals over the three-year MBA, ending at 12.5 percent. The union also secured an increase in the employer’s contribution to the union’s health fund, based on reportable income, of 0.5 percent in the second year of the contract (from 11.5 to 12 percent).
As part of the deal, screenwriters have a guaranteed second “step” or pay point in their deals “when a writer is hired for a first draft screenplay at 200% of the minimum or less, including original and non-original screenplays.” ” The union got the new foreign residual formula that the Directors Guild of America earned in their 2023 deal, which bases payment on the service’s number of foreign subscribers.
The union has apparently not received a commitment from the AMPTP that would allow union members to refuse to cross other unions’ picket lines without consequences, as they asked to start in Augustwhile SAG-AFTRA continues to strike.
The three-year contract still needs to be approved by members and could come into effect if a majority of voters support the deal. If they don’t, union negotiators will have to go back to the bargaining table to work out a pact that members can support.
The ratification vote for the contract will take place between October 2 and 9.