You Can Dance If You Want To. Just Watch What You’re Stepping Into.

I was all set to offer up a few musings on the circus of name-calling, posturing, futile public castigations and pleas for America’s votes that took place on the WEAKEST LINK-type set that was set up in the shadow of Ronald Reagan’s jet and legacy last night in Simi Valley.  Once they all but ignored the final, foolishly scipted question offered up by the snarky Stuart Varney and his clearly dog-whistle cast allies that essentially challenged them to vote one of their competitors off in a manner akin to the actual game, and began to see the intense social media reaction from those watched, it was apparent to me that there is already more than enough of that out there already from far more qualified folks than me.  All I’ll offer up is this–the combined proportion of projected primary  votes that the entire stage aggregated to per the most recent polling aggregates to 35 per cent, which currently falls 25 points shy of the front-runner, indictments and self-delusion aside.

I got the same feeling watching all of that as I did watching the Binghamton Rumble Ponies , a New York Mets farm team, try and salvage some degree of joy for mortified New York baseball fans when they competed earlier this week for their league championship, after having conquered the Yankee farm team from Somerset, New Jersey in the closest thing to meaningful post-season outdoor professional sports the New York City area is likely to see for some time.   A nice diversion, perhaps, but minor league all the way.

Far worse, I got an even more troubling feeling as I watched the reports of the victory lap being taken a few miles south at the Hollywood Palladium by the WGA rank and file– a scene that THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER’s Lesley Goldberg eagerly described as reminiscent of VJ Day:

The Writers Guild of America, on the union’s first day after its historic 148-day strike, staged a “rock concert” – as one showrunner described it – on Wednesday night at the Hollywood Palladium as the guild celebrated its leadership and solidarity while outlining the deal points in its tentative Minimum Basic Agreement to its membership. 

The meeting opened with a minutes-long standing ovation for the negotiating committee and was followed by a video featuring scenes and interviews from the picket lines and from various rallies held throughout the past 148 days of the work stoppage.

WGA West president Meredith Stiehm opened the meeting with the “official” announcement that the guild had reached a tentative new three-year Minimum Basic Agreement after what was the union’s second-longest strike in its history. Her remarks were met with one standing ovation after another as she recognized each and every member of the WGA’s leadership, board and negotiating committee as well as recently elected officers. The biggest applause of the night, however, was reserved for Ellen Stutzman, the chief negotiator for the guild who stepped in for David Young after he went on medical leave in February – with the roughly thousand guild members who packed the Palladium all the way up to its rafters chanting her name.

And, honestly, GREAT.  You’ll soon be back to work–hell, Bill Maher’s already got some of you working on tomorrow night’s show that will no doubt do a far better job savaging last night that I will–and you’ll doing what you love to do.  But while you were doing more dancing at The Palladium than has been seen for actual concerts in many years, some folks who have helped make you as successful as you are were providing some very detailed, and extremely sobering details, on exactly what you need to do to ensure you are rewarded and compensated as fairly as your union leaders are leading you to believe.

You may not be as close with some of the experienced braintrust that contributed to the Facebook chain I was involved in last night as I am, but between us we have more than a century of top-level studio and network research experience.  We are to our sector of the industry as auspiced and qualified as any of the WGA leaders who led your rally last night.  And all we say–perhaps me a bit more forcefully than they–is that when it comes to the issue of data transparency and the details you fought for to get the upside you believe you’re entitied to, y’all come off a lot more like the 35 per cent club that trolled for votes on FOX News Channel last night than not.

In great detail, as the poster cautioned, this success-based viewership residual bonus will need MIT math grads on duty, a cautionary tale was laid out to demonstrate the challenges ahead in determining exactly what will and won’t qualify for the newly negotiated threshold bonuses.  The full link is here for those that can access it, and if you can I can’t encourage you enough to at least read it.  But a few crucial points merit amplification:  For one, how the streaming residual will be calculated:

The WGA’s agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers enshrines the recent definition of a streaming “view” as its measure of success. That equation — total viewing time of a movie or season of a show divided by its running time — is the basis for Netflix’s weekly top 10 charts and has been used selectively by other streamers, notably Disney+ in recent weeks, to tout their own successes.  The number of views over 90 days is then divided by the number of domestic subscribers a streaming service has (as of July 1 of that year). If the result — what the guild calls the series or movie’s “performance metric” — is 0.2 (20 percent) or higher, then writers get a 50 percent bonus of the fixed residual for “high budget” programming on SVOD platforms. The bonus is based on fixed residuals for both domestic and foreign markets, in cases where streaming services pay the latter.  The new residual will be applied to any high budget SVOD series and movie that premieres after Jan. 1, 2024, regardless of when it was ordered or produced.

For another, a few real world scenarios that further illustrate some practical examples of the hypotheticals with the WGA template sketched out:

(B)reakout hits like Netflix’s “The Night Agent” and “Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story” would easily qualify. Based on Nielsen streaming figures, both shows passed the 20 percent threshold for Netflix in the United States just by their time in the Nielsen top 10, without even considering weeks when they missed the top 10 cutoff but still racked up viewing time. “The Night Agent,” for example, had 173.5 million hours of viewing over seven weeks in the Nielsen top 10; with a running time of 8 hours and 11 minutes, that equates to about 21.2 million views in the United States. Netflix reported 75.57 million subscribers in the U.S. and Canada in the second quarter of 2023; dividing 21.2 by 75.57 equals 0.28, or 28 percent. (Since it includes Canada, the 75.57 million figure is obviously somewhat higher than the total for just the United States.)

Those of us who added to the conversation piled on some of the other considerations that our experience with this sort of data, not to mention some exposure to actual numbers from streamers when it was released to us privately, has revealed.  The kind of fluctuations that are seen over a 90-day period.  The reality check that with rare exceptions the majority of that 90-day viewership is seen within the first 21 days.

How much how long something is may actually play a role, as the author further cautioned, (a) series with a running time of, say, 6 1/2 hours would need less total viewing time to reach the 20 percent line than one that’s eight hours long, and a 100-minute movie would get to the mark faster than a 120-minute one.

If all of that sounds a lot less enjoyable than what went down at The Palladium last night, if our observations, as a few overjoyed writers snarked back were “inappropriate” in the spirit of the revelry, oops.  Forgive those of us who have sat in rooms with some of your disparaged AMPTP reps long before you did, and who have at various times been empowered and employed to engage in exactly the kind of detailed rejiggering of promotions, homepage presence and intensity of messaging to help or hinder the eventual performance of a piece of product that we fear will become even more of a priority for them to limit exactly how much you may deserve to be paid or not could be.
If you don’t think for a millisecond that Bob and Carol and Ted and Malice, plus Yosemite and Donna, aren’t looking at those of you whooping it up and claiming victory the same way Donald Duck, as a certain former New Jersey governor put it,  is smirking at the 35% Club this morning well, you weren’t paying as much attention as myself and my longtime associates were.

No, Nielsen data isn’t complete.  We know that way better than most.  But it can be illustrative.  There are other companies providing other metrics as well.  The data can be credibly statistically modeled to be more representative of what the studios and streamers are seeing based on their much more robust global panels,  Not all of us are MIT grads.  But we’ve employed them.  And we know how to speak their language, let alone how to communicate with you.  Remember, we have been your allies and partners in crime for decades.

Yes, third party data would cost money.  Some of you have it.  You found ways to raise it during the strike.   Some of your supporters bought meals at Swingers.  Some did sponsored podcasts (farewell, STRIKE FORCE FIVE?).  Some competed on Celebrity JEOPARDY!.  Many of those SAG-AFTRA members who are staring at their own negotiations that are scheduled to resume next week will be facing the exact same challenges for fair compensation in light of diminished data transpatency that you will be.

We know darn well plenty of you will still be out on the picket lines in solidarity for at least the next few days.  While you’re all line dancing your way into thinking you may have indeed squeezed the balls of studio leadership like you’ve been told, at least pause for a moment to muse on some of this.  This is not just MOI talking, although I freely admit I’ve got a tad more urgency than some others do.  Thanks in large part to the same sort of systemic changes in how and who controls media, many of us have been as impacted as you have been, perhaps more so.  Our brains are still working.  Some of us want to go back to work, too, and we didn’t have the likes of rock stars like Chris Keyser, Ellen Stutzman, David Goodman and David Young fighting for us.

Dance for now.  Celebrate for now. But when the music does stop–and it will–try, just TRY, to take a breath and GET SMARTER.   That means you, WGA members already settled  That means you too, SAG-AFTRA members.  We ALL deserve a victory lap.  Some of us have gone a lot longer than 148 days without one.

The Rumble Ponies would up losing their series, incidentally; it’s the Erie Seawolves that now rule Double A baseball, for those of you scoring at home.  Some of us would prefer a better result in this case.

Honestly, isn’t that the kind of script you’d prefer to write?

Until next time…

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