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Writers Talks Break Down, But Guild Doesn’t Order Strike

Talks between the Writers Guild of America and TV producers broke down late Thursday, but the WGA, which had been threatening to strike, did not instruct its members to walk off the job.

The WGA had been negotiating with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. One of the main issues of contention has been how writers and producers should share revenue from Internet sales of TV shows.

“Today, just hours before the expiration of our contract, the AMPTP brought negotiations to a halt. The companies refused to continue to bargain unless we agree that the hated DVD formula be extended to Internet downloads,” WGA said in a statement issued Thursday night.

WGA said it will hold a meeting with members in Los Angeles Thursday night.

The writers and producers are deadlocked over several issues, including: broadening the scope of cable shows that fall under WGA jurisdiction; covering reality shows and animation in the contract; whether residuals on DVDs should be increased; and how and when writers should be compensated for use of content on new-media platforms, from the Internet to cellphones.

After negotiations broke down, the AMPTP issued a statement, indicating it will not budge on the issue of increasing DVD residuals.

“The companies believe that movement is possible on other issues, but they cannot make any movement when confronted with your continuing efforts to increase the DVD formula, including the formula for electronic sell-through,” AMPTP president Nick Counter said. “The magnitude of that proposal alone is blocking us from making any further progress. We cannot move further as long as that issue remains on the table. In short, the DVD issue is a complete roadblock to any further progress.”

He added that, “In referring to DVDs, we include not only traditional DVDs, but also electronic sell-through – i.e., permanent downloads. As you know, we believe that electronic sell-through is synonymous with DVD…to make any new agreement with you, residuals for the DVD market, including electronic sell-through, must be paid under the existing home video formula.”

On Wednesday Shari Anne Brill, director of programming services for Carat USA, issued a report on the strike. She predicted that because most cable shows “are shot months in advance,” there would be no impact on cable “unless the strike is a long one.”

She did note, however, that Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report “would likely be shut down.”

Brill also predicted that primetime broadcast would take a hit from a writers’ strike.

“Should the strike continue through the winter months, original scripted episodes will disappear and be replaced by extra hours of reality/variety and news-related content,” Brill wrote.

“Fall freshman series, looking to establish a foothold with viewers, will be badly hurt in the event of a prolonged strike unlike familiar favorites, which can count on loyal fans to come back when the program returns,” Brill said in her report.

She added that Carat is advising its clients “to work with the networks to find suitable equivalent inventory in the event that a strike affects programming…Low-rated unscripted make-goods are not a substitute for expensive scripted programs pre-empted by a strike.”