01 June 2012
Posted in TV
Changes safeguard writers in the age of online viewing
(Photo: Success at last! The Writers’ Guild negotiating team celebrates the end of four years’ hard negotiations. From left: Ming Ho, Gail Renard, Bernie Corbett, J.C. Wilsher, Robert Taylor, Anne Hogben)
Major new agreements between the Writers’ Guild, the BBC and the agents’ trade body were signed yesterday (Thursday 31 May 2012), bringing the contractual terms for TV writers fully into the digital age.
The signing ceremony took place in the brand new rebuilt Broadcasting House in central London – the culmination of more than four years’ negotiations that started before the builders even moved in.
Guild General Secretary Bernie Corbett said: 'This is a hugely significant day for writers, safeguarding their interests – and their incomes – whether future viewers stick with broadcast systems or increasingly use online on-demand services. And it gives the BBC the ability to commit fully to an online future, continually increasing the ways in which both current and archive programming can be made available. These negotiations have been an incredibly long-haul, and I congratulate Guild Chair Robert Taylor, whose vision and clarity throughout his three-year term of office have been a major factor in bringing these talks to a successful conclusion.'
The agreements, as foreshadowed at the Guild AGMs in 2010 and 2011, introduce a completely new system to pay writers for the use of their work on the iPlayer online system. A new company called Writers' Digital Payments, jointly controlled by the Guild and the Personal Managers’ Association, will organise payments in proportion to the number of viewers who click to watch each individual programme. The same system can be extended in future to cover payments for possible online archive projects.
In addition the new agreements massively extend the programming covered by collective bargaining, bringing in for the first time drama and comedy commissions below 15 minutes, dramatic material in documentaries, and reforming the way sketch material is commissioned and re-used. In another important change, programmes repeated on secondary channels such as BBC3/4 and the children’s channels will earn residual fees based on a percentage of the original fee, instead of the much-criticised standard fees paid up to now.
To pay for these improvements most writers will lose the 15% additional fee paid upfront for a five-year iPlayer and secondary channels licence. The new agreements mean that this money will now find its way much more accurately to the writers of the most-downloaded and most-repeated shows. Another important change is a reduction in repeat fees, which it is hoped will enable the BBC to repeat many more shows, thus spreading the payments to a wider range of writers. But to avoid a disproportionate pay cut, current EastEnders writers have their fees system ring-fenced and there will be a two-year transition period for writers already working on other long-running series.
The new system will come into force on 1 July 2012 for new commissions, and all programmes commissioned since November 2002 will automatically switch to the new terms as and when they are repeated and/or made available online. Writers of material commissioned before November 2002 will have the option of switching to the new system – as recommended by the Guild and the other parties to the agreements – or remaining on their original terms.
More details about the new agreements and how they will affect writers in practice will be issued within the next few weeks, including a special website with answers to frequently-asked questions and other information. Almost 11,000 writers (or their estates) who have worked for the BBC over its entire history will be contacted by post with an explanation of the new agreements and an invitation to sign up. Look out for more information on the Guild website.