Digital Distribution Tangling Up Writers Guild of America Talks, Strike Looms

In case you were unawares, the contract between Hollywood producers and the Writers Guild of America was supposed to expire a few hours ago, leading to a possible strike, meaning bad things could happen. One of the major issues is digital content and distribution—after getting screwed over by the terms of how they were paid from video and DVD, set many moons ago, they're leery of losing out on tons of cash yet again. Since a multitude of content is going online in an infinitude of formats—web-exclusive content, full episode replays, ARG, etc. on network websites, iTunes and the works—the terms are inevitably just as complicated. Right now, writers only get coin if a viewer pays to see the goods, making ad-supported Hulu, for instance, a black hole for them no matter how many users tune in.

What the guild's asking for with online or mobile distribution is 2.5 percent of the "distributors' gross revenue." Apparently this is tricky for distributors because it's difficult to tell what percentage of the online audience is new to a show or old hands simply shifting to a different medium—I'm guessing this is a problem for the issue at hand because producers don't want to pay writers twice for the same audience.

But, it seems unfair to only compensate writers for content explicitly purchased by viewers (like on iTunes), particularly as more and more content shifts online supported by ads, even if that ad revenue is nowhere near what is for broadcast for the time being. It's only going to get bigger, so they should get a hold of what they can, while they can, lest they feel screwed once again in a few years. [WSJ]