The Writers Guild of America (WGA) has recently negotiated a tentative three-year contract deal with studios and streamers that includes various provisions and restrictions. The details of the contract were released to union members on Tuesday and have garnered much anticipation.
One of the major areas addressed by the contract is the use of artificial intelligence (A.I.) in the writing process. The WGA has secured protections against A.I. penning or rewriting original material under the contract. While writers can still use A.I. as a tool with permission from their employers, they cannot be required to use it. Additionally, companies must disclose if they are providing any A.I.-generated material to the writers during the writing process. The union also reserves the right to assert that the exploitation of writers’ material to train A.I. is prohibited.
Another key aspect of the contract is the establishment of a viewership-based streaming bonus. The WGA proposed the idea of establishing a residual system that rewards projects based on their viewership. The compromise reached with studios involves rewarding projects that are viewed by 20% or more of the service’s domestic subscribers in the first 90 days of release. As a result, made-for-SVOD films and series would receive a bonus of 50% of their fixed domestic and foreign residuals once they reach that viewership benchmark. This means that a half-hour episode on major streaming services could receive a bonus of $9,031, while a streaming feature with a budget over $30 million could receive a bonus of $40,500.
However, with regards to streaming transparency, the compromise falls somewhat short. The union will have confidential access to the total number of hours streamed domestically and internationally for self-produced high budget streaming programs. They can share this information with their members, but it will be provided in aggregated form. This means that while there will be more transparency, streaming services are not required to make their data fully public.
The contract also addresses the minimum staffing requirements in television writers’ rooms. The WGA initially proposed a minimum of six writers for pre-series order scripted programs, with an additional scribe for every two episodes. However, the tentatively agreed-upon contract includes a minimum staff size of three writer-producers for first-season shows in development rooms running 20 weeks or longer, with additional staff requirements tied to the number of episodes. This provision aims to prevent studios and streamers from using A.I. technology to replace human writers and cut costs. There are also provisions for the length of time writers will be employed on scripted shows, ensuring a minimum of 10 consecutive weeks for development rooms and 20 weeks for post-greenlight rooms.
In terms of compensation, the WGA initially requested a cumulative 16% increase in residuals over the three-year contract but settled for a 12.5% increase in the end. The contract also includes an increase in the employer contribution to the union’s health fund, based on reportable earnings.
Screenwriters have also secured a guaranteed second “step” in their deals, ensuring additional payment when hired for a first draft screenplay for 200% of the minimum or less. The contract also introduces a new foreign residual formula based on the number of foreign subscribers to a streaming service.
While the contract addresses many important issues, the union did not secure a commitment from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) to allow union members to refuse to cross other unions’ picket lines without consequences. This remains a point of contention as SAG-AFTRA is currently on strike.
The contract is still subject to a ratification vote from members, which will take place between October 2 and October 9. If a majority of eligible voters support the deal, it will go into effect. Otherwise, union negotiators will have to return to the bargaining table to reach an agreement that members can support.
In conclusion, the Writers Guild of America’s tentative three-year contract deal with studios and streamers addresses various important provisions and restrictions. It includes protections against A.I. use, a viewership-based streaming bonus, minimum staffing requirements in writers’ rooms, and increases in compensation. The contract is subject to a ratification vote from members, which will determine its final implementation.