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Rowing WGA, ATA agree deadline extension

A short deadline extension has been agreed in the ongoing stand-off between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Association of Talent Agents (ATA) in the US.

The dispute relates to the renegotiation of the Artists’ Manager Basic Agreement (AMBA) between the WGA and ATA which has been in place since 1976.

The WGA has produced a new Code of Conduct it said its members have overwhelmingly approved. This code requires ATA members to eliminate the television packaging fees they currently charge for bundling talent and bringing projects together.

The ATA has countered that the packaging fee model is better because it allows writers to forgo paying the 10% commission they would otherwise have to pay their agents.

While there is wiggle room on this issue, a bigger sticking point is the WGA’s insistence that agencies relinquish their interests in production companies and return to being simply talent agencies.

Several of the biggest US agencies have in recent years been making their own moves into production and content ownership, effectively putting them in competition with their clients – something the WGA said is a clear conflict of interest.

The 1976 AMBA deal was due to expire yesterday at which point the WGA was expected to require its 15,000-strong membership to fire their agents over the weekend. Agencies not signing up to the new code would be forbidden from working with WGA members.

Representatives from both sides of the argument met on Friday to discuss a way forward and mutually agreed to extend the existing deal until next Friday, Aril 12. Having not sat around the table since March 26, both sides also committed to meeting regularly between now and then to work towards a resolution, according to a joint statement issued this weekend.

The WGA had said in an earlier statement: “In each of the last three years, the companies that dominate the entertainment industry — Disney, Fox, Time Warner, Comcast, CBS and Viacom — generated more than US$50bn in operating profits. Meanwhile, television writer-producers’ median weekly earnings declined 23% between 2014 and 2016.”

Concern had been mounting prior to this weekend’s deadline over the impact on employment and deal-making if writers and agents end up parting ways.

Marc Berman, editor-in-chief of Programming Insider, wrote in C21 last week: “Needless to say, uncertainty looms. This could change how this business is conducted, potentially negatively impacting, in particular, the newer generation of writers not firmly established. While a work stoppage is not expected should the deadline pass, the end result at this pivotal time for writers is not expected to be a positive one.

“The lower and mid-level writers who depend on their agents for jobs and for negotiating their writer fees above guild minimums – mainly the staff writers and executive story editors, according to reports – are the ones likely to feel this pinch.

“And in this era of ‘peak TV,’ where the rise in original scripted product means a greater need for these new voices, a disruption in the traditional pattern, at this pivotal time of the broadcasting year, could have negative consequences.”

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