We Are(n’t) The World, Creatives. Not Yet, At Least. But Yesterday Was A Nice Step In The Right Direction.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to have a wonderful dinner with a longtime colleague who is now a fairly successful scripted TV writer.  We were in a celebratory mood because he told me that it was going to be announced that a second season of the series he was hired to write for was picked up, therefore assuring that he’s going to have a decent amount of income in the near future as his oldest child graduates high school.

So, believe me, I am more than empathetic to the resolve that WGA members have has they are now a month and a half into what appears to be a resolute and determined battle for more of them to have the kind of opportunities and lifestyles that my talented friend has.  I was on the lookout for that release, which finally dropped yesterday.  In the interim, though I saw these ominous notes about exactly how determined and creative their opposition is now:

Per D.M. of Distractified:

The cast of NCIS: Sydney has been revealed and it is packed with familiar faces. The series, which is set to be released on Paramount+ and Network 10, marks NCIS’ first venture into international waters. The show will follow the crimefighting adventures of a multi-national taskforce, consisting of American NCIS Agents and Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers.

CBS first announced plans to expand the franchise in February, revealing that the Australia-based inception of NCIS will be available for streaming later this. year.

And from VARIETY’s Amber Dowling:

The “Law & Order” universe is heading up north. Citytv has ordered the series “Law & Order Toronto: Criminal Intent,” Rogers Media announced on Monday. The pickup was revealed a day before Rogers Media’s virtual upfront presentation on June 6.

The Toronto iteration hails from Vancouver-based Lark Productions and Cameron Pictures Inc. in association with Citytv. The first season is planned as ten hour-long episodes, set to premiere in Spring 2024. The show is based on the “Law & Order” franchise created by Dick Wolf for Universal Television, which will distribute the series internationally.

And these are from companies that AREN’T tech-financed disruptors who appear to be driving the AMPTP’s hard-line non-negotiating stance that has essentially dismissed the protests, social media lobbying and even the strategic disruptions of production sites around Los Angeles and, more recently, elsewhere around the U.S.  Because as any of the more snarky and elitist executives at AMPTP members responsible for figuring out a way to still produce something will likely tell you behind closed doors, this is the Writer’s Guild of AMERICA.  And when you’ve got IP that can translate to production potential in other English-speaking countries, and a history of such content being embraced and even disproportinately successful on streaming platforms, this is always a very powerful quiver in their bow.

And it’s not like we haven’t been an ecosystem that hasn’t taken advantage of global opportunities before, either.  We’ve borrowed from international formats to create long-running iterations of scripted series before; THE OFFICE and, more recently, GHOSTS have their roots in well-received UK series.  Older writers were drafted by studios’ international divisions to lend their expertise to localized productions of their earlier works in emerging territories.  Before he became a food critic, and just after his breakout hit EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND left CBS, he produced a highly entertaining documentary, EXPORTING RAYMOND, where he told how he was able to get an unprecedented cultural experience, not to mention a few more paychecks, by advising and training Russian writers.  This was a practice that Sony in particular has employed with several shows.  Apparently, we did a good enough job with some of them to give their studios the confidence they can now can a good enough job to just produce the local versions on their own, knowing that streaming provides a viable global aftermarket.

So its was extremely encouraging to see that the WGA gained some much-needed support and solidarity yesterday from those that they really need on their side–their peers around the world.  Per DEADLINE’s Max Goldbart’s article that previewed it:

British big-hitters Russell T. Davies, Jack Thorne and Dennis Kelly are preparing to stand with writers around the world today in support of striking scribes on a global day of solidarity and action.

Badged ‘Screenwriters Everywhere,’ writers and protestors from almost two-dozen countries will march later to show support for their American counterparts, who put their pens down on May 2.

Actions are taking place throughout the globe including at Netflix’s office in Seoul, South Korea, Apple and Amazon in Canada and the European Parliament in Brussels.

The Writers Guild of Great Britain (WGGB)-organized protest in the UK will be attended by the likes of Doctor Who Showrunner Davies, Help’s Thorne, The Full Monty writers Alice Nutter and Simon Beaufoy, and The Third Day’s Kelly. WGGB President Sandi Toksvig and Chair Lisa Holdsworth will make speeches around 1 p.m. GMT (5 a.m. PT).

Toksvig said: “Everything starts with the writer, and we need to make sure that those who profit from the creative brilliance of writers, share those profits with writers, so they can be paid properly, enjoy fair working conditions and are treated with dignity and respect. These are the principles on which the trade union movement was founded, and they are more important today than they have ever been.

Gleaning support from those that the studios may have been counting on to provide a workaround is crucial.  Because reinforcing those ties and connections can not only help in providing some leverage, it can also provide a roadmap for learning that some of those global peers have at their disposal that WGA members insist is a big issue going forward. As the author of ALLYOURSCREENS.COM’s TOO MUCH TV newsletters Rick Ellis reminded last night:

There are all kinds of local quirks of the streaming industry that don’t get much attention here in the States. For instance, did you know that the rights owners of French programs viewed on Netflix in France, Luxembourg, and Belgium receive royalties every three months from the streaming service under an agreement signed in 2014 between the streamer and the SACD (the Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers)? Under the terms of the agreement (which Netflix signed just before it launched in France), rightsholders receive both a complete rundown of the number of people who watched the program and payment based on those numbers.

So the argument that “Netflix never reveals viewing numbers” is mostly true. Unless you’re a producer in France, Luxembourg, and Belgium.

Getting some detailed data from these partners in solidarity which, in the right hands, can be scrutinized to see exactly what metrics are being used and how they contrast with some of the iterations that Ellis  outlined in yesterday’s report that bear a deeper dive and more informative and constructive debate besides the emotional accusations that the WGA has:

Yes, streamers want as many people as possible to watch a show. But raw viewing numbers are only part of the witches brew they use to determine value:

A primary Netflix metric is called the “adjusted view share,” which is a combination of more than 30 factors that attempt to assign an overall “value” for any piece of content. An example I was given was that it’s possible to track which content was most watched by brand new subscribers last month. That content would be considered more valuable because it presumably was one of the reasons why viewers subscribed. But if those viewers exit after a month or two, that lessens the value of the content. The assumption being that some percentage of the canceled subscriptions came from people who subscribed primarily for a specific show.

It depends on where people are watching. A show that is more popular in a region such as the U.S., where the ARPU (average revenue per user) is higher has a greater value than one that tracks more in regions where the ARPU is lower. Although that indicator is weighted less than some others and whether the content is attracting subscribers in a territory where subscriber retention costs are high also factors into the equation. Netflix also tracks how many people complete a TV show within a week, the percentage of people who rewatch a series (although if the number is too high, it’s discounted as possible fan manipulation). And there are many more. Each of the factors is weighted differently and the weighting can apparently change as the company’s strategy evolves.

WGA members, I’d like to be two of those right hands that you can get that information into.  Because I know darn well there’s some ammunition there for you to use.  And I’ll add that if SAG-AFTRA is set to follow suit at the end of this month, I’m as eager to help that cause in a similar way.  I have plenty of friends there as well, one in particular that has a five-figure payday awaiting if and when production commences on a streaming series they just earned a five-episode arc in.  (That person owes me money, incidentally, so I’m admittedly more than a bit eager to help that situation along.  And at the rate my world is going, I REALLLLY need it).

Yesterday was a nice start.  But it needs to continue.  BOLLY INSIDE’s Eliza Whitfield posted a somber warning of how fleeting this leverage could be:

This is not the first time that writers in other parts of the world have shown their support for WGA writers since the strike began in early May. For example, on May 11th, some European writers staged a small protest outside the Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA) European headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

With companies like Netflix, Amazon, and Disney operating in many countries around the globe, there are concerns that writers outside the U.S., where production continues, could potentially steal jobs from striking WGA members. However, many international writers guilds have issued guidelines to their members over the past few weeks about steering clear of jobs that would ordinarily go to WGA members.

So keep the lines of communication going across the pond.  Get the information they have in your hands, and perhaps mine.  You’re fighting global monoliths.  Be global in your strategies.

And maybe we’ll all be able to get back to real work and to pay our respective debts before long.  Fingers and toes crossed.

Until next time…

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