WGAe Tries to Bridge New Media Divide

By 11/24/2009
WGAe Tries to Bridge New Media Divide

Tubefilter analyst Adam Wright takes an in-depth editorial look at the latest initiative from the Writer’s Guild of America East’s efforts to codify work in new media.

WGAeNew Media, Transmedia, Web Video, Web Series, Web Television, whatever you want to call “it,” “it” is the future. Anyone reading Tubefilter, which has a mission “to grow the audience of web television,” knows this. Considering this, the traditional media complex is not going anywhere anytime soon. Too often the traditional media industry belittles internet video, which is why it is refreshing to see a media mainstay, like the Writer’s Guild East pursuing an active role in promoting new media.

The Writer’s Guild 2.0 initiative could very well help close the divide between traditional and new media. This initiative corralled a slew of new media signatories (full list below) and brought them together to form a New Media Caucus within the guild.


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Latest list of WGAe’s new media signatories:

  • 9am Meeting – Original animated web series.
  • AGBK – A Brooklyn-based production company involved in the creation and production of web series, short films for the web, branded entertainment/web commercials and music videos.
  • Allevon – Original animated web series. (In production)
  • CJP Digital – CJP Digital produces several web series – all live action, including The Temp Life
  • Concierge: The Series – Original live action web series.
  • Confirmed Bachelors – Original animated web series.
  • Dinosaur Diorama TV – Production company – creator of several live action web series, The Burg.
  • Duder – Original live action web series. Webby nominated. 22 complete episodes online.
  • The Hayley Project – Original live action web series.
  • Hedge Fund – Original live action web series.
  • Heroic Pictures – Producer of live action web series, Issues: The Series.
  • Jamtown Films – Production company specializing in talk show style web series and children’s programming.
  • Life After Lisa – Original live action web series.
  • Louise Log– Original live action web series. www.thelouiselog.com
  • New Jill TV – Original live action web series.
  • Undead New York – Original animated web series. (In production)
  • Unleashed – Original animated web series. www.unleashed.tv
  • Untitled Chioke Nassor – Original content including web series and short films for the internet.

The Hayley ProjectWGA East Executive Director Lowell Peterson described the situation as dynamic. “It’s a different space for most guilds and most unions — it’s in transformation, in growth, nothing is resolved economically,” he said. “The folks that are creating content are almost by nature experimenting in this form, both what they put up online and on mobile, and economically.” Continuing on, Peterson stressed the need for organizing the space. “I think it is important to have a guild of content creators step into this space listen to what people say and hopefully have a seat at the table.” The question remains, what can the WGA East do and (what have they already have done?) to really help both legitimize and further new media content creators?

Updating Outdated Contracts

The guilds specifically making New Media Contracts makes sense, like those of Screen Actors Guild or IATSE. The pool of quality actors and workmen is somewhat limited when you take out the 30,000 skilled IATSE members and the “nearly 120,000 working actors” SAG represents. Let’s face it there are not too many actors or skilled laborers who consider themselves “strictly new media.” On top of this, New Media productions that are SAG Signatories will certainly attract more serious actors hoping to become SAG members as well. On top of this, in the past, New Media productions using SAG actors in the past often were simply put under “low budget” or independent film contracts, which has caused headaches and hangups in pushing self-published DVD releases of those series which became popular like David Wain’s Wainy Days.

Updated contracts for pre-existing WGA members also makes sense. We are past the era of studio mandated unpaid webisodes. As for the backbone of this fledgling Web TV industry, under the Writer’s Guild East, the independents are allowed to join this somewhat exclusive guild, which gives many of these hopeful mainstream media writers access to a large network of connections, fun free events, screenings, and panels, and most exciting of all health and dental coverage (…if the content creator is making enough money). As Ursula Lawrence, Strategic Organizer put it, “[The WGAe is] all about democratizing.” This also reflects the requirements of joining. There is a flat $1,500 fee to join with a $25 per quarter due (which covers free screenings and events) or once an income threshold is hit from creating content, 1.5% of the content creators’ income becomes dues. Health Care, Pension, etc does not enter into the equation until writers make $35,000 a year. Also, in a nod to the economics of the industry there are currently no minimum salaries or residuals.  “We’re not remotely trying to pose a model from broadcast or Hollywood,”  emphasized Peterson.

Bargaining Backbone

WGAe New MediaIs there a need for the WGA to get involved though? Sure, indie web TV showrunners might be excited at the prospect of health insurance, but the problem is, the economics are just not there yet. The kind of digital revenue required for full benefits is such a rarity in this space currently reserved for only a top tier of content producers. Peterson commented, “at some point this business will coalesce, and I think it’s important for the WGA to be involved before this happens … to make sure the creators have their rights”.

This may happen sooner than anyone thinks. Money and interest is coming from many directions right now. Traditional media is continuing experimentation with divisions such as 15gigs, NBC Digital Entertainment, or Paramount Digital and aggressively (but cautiously) spending in this space. In the same breath, brands are also looking towards webseries as a place to promote themselves through a range of initiatives, from successful integrations like IKEA into Easy To Assemble to more vanilla sponsorships like GoDaddy’s continued support of Revision3’s Diggnation.

Finally, the online distributors are starting to find models themselves Revision3 continues to push boundaries in terms of monetization and driving views. Sites like Babelgum and MSN are downright bullish about licensing more web series. MSN even went so far as to give an open call out to content producers for submission. As this money continues to come in, it is important for fledgling content creators to have a place to look toward for help and advice as they are thrown into complex contracts with little help in the part of lawyers and agents, who are also often alien to this space.

Counting all this interest, Peterson still cautions, “right now there is very little money and we’re not alchemists. … We’re an advocacy organization for creators.” Peterson continued, as a primary function, “we will form compensation plans for the creators.” The only way that this can be done is bringing the community together and learning from them what these plans should be.

Advocating Openness

One of the biggest problems right now in the web television industry is how tightlipped creators are about their content, their views, and their monetization. This is what leads people to push forth the view that there are no models yet for web television. An advocacy group like the WGAe stepping in and offering a safe place to discuss fascinating trends of this emerging business is a step in the right direction. Peterson explained that they will be “surveying our members and talking to these folks about what is most needed to know to create digital media.” This will become increasingly important as money pours into this space from all angles and it will behoove content creators to come together to work out the best practices in terms of monetization.

Besides New Media creators talking together, it is important to include members of the traditional media in on the conversation. Not only are many traditional content creators interested in New Media, as Peterson put it “we have folks who share a passion to create content regardless of what medium,” but, more importantly, the folks in traditional media know how to turn content into a business. Yes, money can be a scary thing to free-wheeling artists, but in order for web television to be truly legitimized, people need to be able to make a living from it. Peterson confirmed this as he further explained the program: “We’ve got a lot of stuff going on. We’re putting together a job or skill training program. Even the design of this program is interesting we have people from distribution, marketing, finance to give people advice on what writer’s need to balance the desire to create with the opportunity of living”

Looking for Best Practices

Most recently, a caucus has been formed within the guild with the new signatories. This caucus has tasked themselves with setting a roadmap for the future of New Media within the guild and even the space in general. There are many important notes on the agenda including raising awareness, training, developing ways to raise the incomes of digital media members, and establishing standards for deals with major online distributors, as Ursula exclaimed “we can’t come up with a new contract, but we can come up with best practices.” Interestingly enough, some of this recent meeting has lead to actionable items, such as in terms of political advocacy, last week, the WGA East publicly positioned themselves on the pro side of Net Neutrality. Ultimately, what needs to come out of this caucus is a unified voice that captures the unique circumstances of content creators in the web video world. This is needed to mature the space and give content creators a fighting chance at making a living doing what they love.

Supplemental Information
If you are a content creator on the east coast and are interested in joining or at least learning more about the new initiative please feel free to contact Ursula Lawrence at the Writer’s Guild East – ulawrence@wgaeast.org.

Bottom photo by vidiot.

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