AMPTP: Uncertain digital future clouds WGA contract

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As the clock ticks down to the Oct. 31 expiration of the writers contract, the producers are playing for time. About two to three years would be nice, said NBC's Marc Graboff and Warner Bros.' Bruce Rosenblum.

That's how long it will take to understand consumer behavior and formulate new business models in the face of the digital revolution, they told TV critics attending the annual summer press tour at the Beverly Hilton during a session Friday that was hastily added to the schedule.

The Television Critics Assn. offered a similar opportunity to the WGA, but the invitation was declined.

Graboff, representing the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, said that NBC and other networks are preparing for the possibility of a WGA strike. "I'm not going to get into details about what our schedule would look like for competitive reasons," he said. But, he added, there are plans. "We are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best."

Rosenblum, also representing the AMPTP, said a proposal worked out in two to three years would be in everyone's best interest. "We want to make the deals. We want to share in the success," he said.

He said a big stumbling block is how to share revenue from digital sources, such as downloads and broadband. At this point, no one knows whether income from those sources will be offset by smaller TV audiences, resulting in losses from advertisers who pay according to the number of traditional viewers.

Graboff said that higher production costs mean that networks can't recoup the cost of the licensing fee after the first run. At the same time, he said, viewers are tuning out repeat episodes.

The NBC Entertainment co-chairman said a side letter with the WGA could let members negotiate individually for work that appears on the Internet, but the guild is not permitting members to do so.
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