Showing posts with label WGA Strike. Show all posts
Showing posts with label WGA Strike. Show all posts

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What can striking WGA writers learn from video game writers? A lot.

This year's WGA awards are featuring a new award devoted to video game writers. The award, I am sure, was created to increase the ties between television/film writers and writers in the video game industry in order to set the foundation for video game writers eventual migration into the WGA structure. While specific games selected by the nominating committee might leave those of us who actually play video games doubting the sanity of the WGA, the fact that the WGA is reaching out the the video game community proves them to be not only sane but savvy. The quicker the WGA reaches out to the video game industry, the better.

The WGA should have begun looking into a partnership twenty years ago when games like Zak McCracken and Maniac Mansion were already showing the link between film and game (you can watch the introductions to these games below). George Lucas understood that video games can tell stories, and that there was a demand for computer based games. But it is better to be late, as is the case with the WGA and their outreach to the video game industry, than never.

Had the WGA reached out to video game writers/designers earlier, they might have been more prepared when going into negotiations seven years ago. They would have had members who had experience with "alternate revenue streams" and not bought into the studios selling them on the "unpredictability" of the DVD sales market. Luckily, there is time to learn more lessons from writers and designers in video games and to benefit from their outlook when it comes to alternate revenue streams.

In a recent article on Gamasutra, a United Business Media (the people who own PR Newswire and CMP) site devoted to the gaming industry, Tom Buscaglia discusses a recent negotiation he entered into with a game company and how he ensured his clients received a fair share of the revenue the game would produce. One of the first points that Buscaglia made was that their are "some things that publishers excel at and one of them is coming up with new and innovative ways to commercially exploit games." The publishers, like the movie/tv studios, may not know how to make a good game/show/movie (or even how to recognize one), but they certainly know how to make money off of one when it is successful. Buscaglia reminds us as readers that this means that those going into negotiations with publisher (and by extension producers) need to go in with their eyes wide open.

Buscaglia sites a common mistake that people make when entering negotiations with a publisher. What is it? "Often the developer is so focused on getting a publisher to sell their game that all they look at are the royalties from game sales." This is a huge mistake, according to Buscaglia, because, "If all the developer asks for is a portion of the revenue from the sales, what’s all they’ll get, regardless of how much ancillary revenue a game generates. And publishers are getting really good at finding innovative ancillary revenue streams from the games the sell."

That's right. If all you want to do is secure that you receive a percentage of sales, that's all you're going to get, but don't fool yourself into thinking that is all the publisher is going to get. I wish that the WGA understood this in their earlier negotiations with the producers and studios. The "suits" certainly understood this, even as they were dickering a low residual rate for the writers. What about business to business (B2B) revenue created from advertising sold on studio websites when episodes are streaming? Nope. None of that, but the studio is certainly making money that way. The writers were already getting B2B revenue from syndication, why didn't they see that there might be other B2B revenue streams?

What might one of these alternate revenue streams look like? Once again, we can look to the Buscaglia article and the video game industry. "Eventually, through some rather persistent negotiating, we were able get the publisher to agree to pour any in-game advertising and any B2B revenue into the revenue pool." So...they made sure to get a share of business to business revenue, and...what's this? They also got the publisher to pour in a share of "in-game advertising?" When was the last time the writer's asked for a share of "product placement" revenue? It is the film/tv equivalent of in-game advertising after all. If Bruce Willis drinks a Pepsi in a movie, and the funders are benefiting financially from that event, the writer should be getting a share of that revenue as well.

Buscaglia, in representing video game developers, tries to ensure that his clients are a part of any potential future earnings. For example, just "in case the publisher found any other way to exploit the game that was had not covered, [he] also include[s] in the contact a "catch all" provision pouring any and all revenue from any commercial exploitation of the game from anywhere into the royalty pool to be split with the developer."

Certainly, the fact that Buscaglia is representing individual clients (and not a whole union) enables a certain degree of liberty in the negotiating process, but the WGA could certainly learn from the way he looks at a creative property as a revenue source.

Here is a list of what I think the WGA should be getting:

  • Continuing Syndication Revenue: Yes, syndication is dead. And yes, they are already receiving syndication money, but this revenue stream needs to keep trickling.
  • DVD Residual: Like syndication, this revenue stream is actually already dead -- it just doesn't know it yet. And writers are already receiving some revenue from DVDs. They need to milk this for as much as they can get, for as long as they can get it. They also need to understand that it isn't going to be around for much longer.
  • Internet Download Residuals: These too are actually already dead. That's right, this "wave of the future" way of selling movies is already obsolete. Sure, it will pass through a period of high revenue, but it will die and quickly. Once again, that shouldn't stop the WGA from getting their members a share.
  • Revenue Sharing from Online Display: An absolute must. This may, or may not, be a long lasting future source of revenue, but revenue sharing -- rather than a "per view" payment -- is an absolute must.
  • Cell Phone Viewing Residuals: What? Cell phones? Yes, and I'm not talking iPhone downloads -- but those too. I'm talking about "on demand" cellular viewing technology, or streaming cellular video technology. People will be using their portable devices to watch tv on the go. In fact, the WGA should be negotiating for all of the TVs of tomorrow.
  • Percentage of Product Placement Revenue: This is most likely going to have to be negotiated by individuals, and likely will be limited to "creators," but the writers had better be keeping his revenue in mind. My acquaintance Rob Long likes to talk about how everyone knows that the "King of Queens" works for UPS, and that the studio is watching a revenue go down the drain every episode. The studios, and the show's creators should be fighting to get UPS money if they can do so without losing creative control.
  • A percentage of any future revenue source I can't predict: I'm not able to see into the future, but the WGA and writers need to be thinking about any future revenue now. They either need to get a better "percentage" in the long run or demand more money up front.

Maniac Mansion Introduction

Zak McCracken Introduction

Thursday, November 15, 2007

An Evening with Tim Minear

As a recent Variety article points out, "there is an image war raging during the WGA strike." So far, it appears that the writers are winning with about 63% of the fans supporting the writers and only around 7% supporting the studios. This means about 30% of the people don't care, but that is a talk for another time. I don't want to get into how the underlying philosophical concepts what the writers are asking are central to the existence of modern democracy, at least not here. Ask me over a Guinness, and I might be able to ramble for a good hour about the topic.

Needless to say, the studios seem to be reacting to the lack of public support. For example NBC is showing their charitable nature and giving fans the opportunity to buy television show props with the proceeds going to charity. See how that works, you buy Steve Carell's watch from NBC and the United Way benefits. NBC makes dismantling a show a charitable act.

Hmm...maybe they don't need the writers after all, that's pretty creative.

I'm kidding about the NBC dismantling the show part. Given that some of the items are signed, I am sure that the auctions were probably already scheduled. But I am not at all surprised that NBC would use this as an opportunity to shift the PR battle in their favor.

The only way that writers, current and future, are going to get an equitable outcome from the strike is if they win the PR battle. That's why Bill Cunningham, Shawna Benson and I did a Geekerati episode with Rob Long last Monday. That's why we will be interviewing Tim Minear about the strike tomorrow night. It's important to know why the writers are striking and why those 30% who don't currently care on way or another really ought to care. It matters. We're talking about the development of a new medium here, and that means that the norms established today will be lasting.

We will also be discussing the fans who support the strike, like the organizers of If you want to know more about the strike, or if you are a participant in fans4writers, listen in (starting at 7pm) and give us a call (starting at 7:15 or so) at (646) 478-5041 to join in the conversation.

Come listen to Bill, Shawna, and me on Friday night at 7pm, as we chat with Tim Minear. Maybe he'll even discuss how this is affecting his upcoming projects (MIRACLE MAN and DOLLHOUSE), but no promises. While you're waiting, make sure you visit Tim You can even read the shooting script for the Firefly episode "Out of Gas." For free. Legally.

How cool is that?

If you want even more information about the strike, you can play or download the Geekerati interview with writer/producer Rob Long below.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

WGA Strike Day 3: Update and Thoughts

As of today, internetelevision is dead to me. I am a big fan of internetelevision, or as other people call it, "the ability to watch their favorite shows on the internet." Intelevision can come as purchased iTunes downloads, ad supported streaming video, or subscription based streams and downloads. It doesn't matter, it is all dead to me. I don't care if I can watch it when, where, and how I want.

At least not anymore. The fact that television producers think of webisodes and other streaming content as "promotional" and don't want to pay a fair share to the writers who produce the material is extremely bothersome to me. If you charge to place ads within the content, it isn't promotional -- it's a show. The internet is the future of visual home entertainment. With services like iTunes, Xbox Live, and Joost, not to mention the network websites and MySpace, there is an abundance of visual entertainment I can access whenever I want and without leaving my couch. These services, and others like them, are only going to continue to grow. That is unless we as consumers stop using them, and that's what I'm doing.

I will not visit a network website, or link to one, until the Writer's strike is over. I will not download any episodes from iTunes. I will not purchase a DVD. I will not watch any reruns, or reality TV, that the network runs during the strike.

I will support the writers, without whom I would not have the visual entertainment I enjoy.

Writers are some of the hardest working people in Hollywood, and they receive the least credit. Like Joss Whedon, I was appalled when I read the description, provided by Joss, of the striking writers in the NY Times. They described the writers as:

“All the trappings of a union protest were there… …But instead of hard hats and work boots, those at the barricades wore arty glasses and fancy scarves.”

I've met a couple of writers, one of whom I interviewed on Monday, and I've yet to see one in "arty classes and fancy scarves." I think the writer was mistaking a memory of Tom Baker as Dr. Who for the writer's strike.

For a look at what the writers really look like, here's a video of the writers of The Office as they spell out their complaints. Watch the video and visit

If you want even more information about the strike, you can play or download my interview with writer/producer Rob Long below.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The WGA Strike and the Geek Perspective

Last night, television writer/producer Rob Long hung out with me and the rest of the geeks at Geekerati to discuss the current WGA strike. In addition to covering the expected questions like, "why the strike is happening" and "how will this affect the current television season," Rob discussed the ways new technology are going to change the ways we interact with visual entertainment. He discussed the need for writers to get their foot into the door when it comes to receiving their fair share of the "digital dollar" and what the digital future will look like.

You can listen to the episode by pressing pressing the play button below.

Or you can download the episode directly at the Geekerati website or on iTunes.

Rob Long is a writer and producer in Hollywood. He began his career writing on TV's long-running "Cheers," and served as co-executive producer in its final season. During his time on the series, “Cheers” received two Emmy Awards, and two Golden Globe awards. His most recent television series were "George and Leo," starring Bob Newhart and Judd Hirsh, “Love & Money,” on CBS, and “Men, Women & Dogs,” on the WB Network – all three of which he created with his writing partner, Dan Staley. Their production company, Staley/Long Productions, was based at Paramount Studios from 1993 to 2001, and is currently based at ABC Studios. In addition, he and his partner have served as creative consultants on numerous programs. Mr. Long has been twice nominated for an Emmy Award, and has received a Writers Guild of America award.

He has co-written several feature film scripts, including “Just a Shot Away,” currently in pre-production with a France-based production company.

His first book, Conversations with My Agent, chronicled his early career in television. It was published in the UK by Faber & Faber, in the US by Dutton, and in France by Actes Sud. His second book, Set up, Joke, Set Up, Joke, was published in November 2005 by Bloomsbury. He is also a co-founding partner in Madison Road Entertainment, an integrated advertising production company.

He is a contributing editor of National Review, Newsweek International, and the Los Angeles Times and writes occasionally for the Wall Street Journal and the BBC Radio Times (UK). His weekly radio commentary, “Martini Shot,” is broadcast on the Los Angeles public radio station KCRW, and is distributed nationally. It’s also podcast in iTunes, and can be found here:

In addition to his work in television, film, and politics, Mr. Long is also a new media entrepreneur. His limited partnership venture,, is a fast-growing video site that combines videos, entertainment, news, and information all in a dynamic map-based interface. It can be found at

He speaks often in front of trade, political, and community groups, including National Review Institute, CATO Institute, the Wednesday Morning Club, the Los Angeles Public Library Foundation, and the “Conversations/Design” Series on topics ranging from Hollywood and politics, screenwriting, contemporary media, and “how to break into the entertainment industry.”

Mr. Long graduated from Yale University, and spent two years at UCLA School of Film, Theater and Television, where he occasionally serves as an Adjunct Professor of Screenwriting. He serves as co-president on the Board of Directors of My Friend’s Place, an agency for homeless teens in Hollywood and is on the board of the American Cinema Foundation. He’s also an active and passionate member of the Southern Foodways Alliance.