Programming

Thinking Small

Union deal has studios making cellphone plans 4/28/2006 08:00:00 PM Eastern

If Touchstone Television's Scrubs makes it back onto NBC's prime time schedule next season, says studio President Mark Pedowitz, the show is a perfect candidate to be next in line to generate a series for mobile phones.

“I would love to do one with Scrubs,” Pedowitz says. “We've had a couple of discussions with [creator] Bill Lawrence about it. We just haven't put it together.”

And if it does happen, it now appears there is a framework for writers, directors and actors to earn residuals based on last week's deal between Disney-owned Touchstone and the Writers Guild of America (WGA), Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and Directors Guild of America (DGA) over their representation of production of so-called mobisodes for ABC's Lost.

Under the deals, members of the guilds who work on the upcoming Lost Video Diaries mobisode series will earn residuals according to the rate used for pay cable programming.

The guilds hail the deal as a “landmark agreement” because it sets a framework for future negotiations.

Touchstone's Pedowitz plays down that language. “It's an important step in the sense of the studio and the guilds working together to figure out a way to do something, but I was taken a little bit by surprise at what they were touting it to be,” he says. “It is important, but is it a landmark? I'm actually surprised they are looking at it in that direction.”

But with the guilds continuing their push to have members compensated for digital downloads, WGA, West President Patric Verrone says that, since details of the Lost deal have become known, he's getting calls from members who want to pursue similar deals.

Before the Lost accord, he says, if a network or studio wanted to make a mobisode version, most likely “a showrunner would have had the writers' assistant do it during hiatus.” Now, Verrone says, showrunners will want a “guild contract for a staff writer, producer or maybe still a writers' assistant to do it [but under contract].”

Verrone is talking to studios about similar deals and lauds Disney for leading the way in the new-media realm.

“Disney has a bad reputation in this town, and yet they ultimately make deals, for which they need to be given credit,” he says. “Disney, because of their interest in staying out front, realized what [CBS Corp. CEO] Leslie Moonves and [News Corp. Chairman] Rupert Murdoch have only been paying lip service to, which is that you need the content.”

Under the WGA/DGA deal, residuals begin after content is used on cellphone mobisodes for 13 weeks, at a rate equal to 1.2% of the license fee the show producers are getting from the phone provider. The figure remains the same if the mobisode is downloaded via the Internet and rises to 2% if the Internet download is ad-supported. ABC does not have to pay residuals for streaming on its own Web site if it is free and without dedicated ads.

SAG's mobisode deal provides a minimum wage of $425 for an eight-hour day retroactive to April 1; that increases to $450 April 1, 2007. Residuals are also triggered after 13 weeks. An actor will get a $75 advance against a residual of 3.6% of the license fee. That figure jumps to 6% if Internet downloads are ad-supported.

Will viewers radically change habits? If they do, says WGA's Verrone, ABC's in the right spot: “Disney is putting its money where its mouth is and getting the best content.”

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