It's a holiday miracle: Sides 'actually talk'

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In something like the first gift of Hanukkah, studio and guild reps wrapped a negotiating session Tuesday that was as cordial as any to date.

"For only the second or third time, we actually talked to each other," a labor-side source said Tuesday night. "If it wasn't for Hanukkah (beginning at sundown), I think we would still be there."

Indeed, sources on both sides of the labor-management divide described the day as relatively productive. The WGA presented its much-anticipated proposal for streamed-content compensation to the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, and the parties batted the subject back and forth for a few hours.

As one negotiations insider put it: "There was a lot of discussion about the guild proposal, and then there was more discussion. It was the topic of the day."

The parties agreed to reconvene at the same undisclosed location at 10 this morning. They likely will continue to dissect the streaming proposal, which would pay writers a fixed residual, increasing in graduated increments for content drawing greater viewerships (HR 12/4).

Asked to describe whether management received the WGA proposal warmly or derisively, a well-placed source would only observe, "Somewhere in between."

The AMPTP issued only a terse statement following the conclusion of the session.

"We will spend the evening studying what the WGA had to say today, and we look forward to returning to the bargaining table tomorrow," the studio group said.

The session lasted eight hours, with that span also encompassing time spent in separate on-site caucus sessions and other breaks. CAA mediator Bryan Lourd continued to serve as a mediator for the contract talks, but the official federal mediator remained absent.

Tuesday's talks represented the 22nd bargaining session since negotiations began July 16, with today marking Day 31 of the writers strike. The WGA's contract with the AMPTP expired Oct. 31.

From the start, the central issue of negotiations has been compensating writers for Internet-originated content and for films and TV shows redistributed over the Internet and mobile platforms.

So far, the parties have gotten the most traction during an exchange of proposals on how to pay writers when such content is streamed for free by consumers on ad-supported Web sites -- something for which scribes now get no compensation. The AMPTP presented an offer of just $250 per year to compensate writers in streaming situations, and the WGA responded Tuesday with its potentially much more lucrative counter-proposal.

Eventually, negotiators probably also will have to work out the additional new-media question of how to deal with writers' demands for greater pay than they now get when such content is downloaded for a fee, also known as electronic sell-through. Writers also are seeking first-time guarantees for guild jurisdiction over new-media writing.

"We will still be talking about streaming in the morning," a labor insider said about expectations for today's session. "They should make a counter-proposal about jurisdiction and electronic sell-through either tomorrow or at some point. We might spend the whole day talking about streaming. It's a very complicated issue."

Both management and labor sources took care to avoid characterizing the mood at day's end as overly optimistic. And certainly nobody around the bargaining table was suggesting that a deal is in sight just yet -- or even signaling any urgency in striking a deal.

But as one labor-side source observed: "Talking is good. We just have to keep at it.

"For now, the tone is more civil. And that's a huge step forward."
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