Making sense of lost loot
Both sides spinning cost of strikeThe Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers posted a video message indicating that striking writers have now lost more than $151 million in salary and benefits, which is more than what the WGA proposed in its three-year deal to the studios.
The message, posted Friday on the AMPTP Web site and YouTube, claims that WGA leaders are to blame for their members reaching the $151 million milestone (hit shortly after 10 a.m. Friday). The WGA is trying to expand its power rather than address the issues that matter to its members, like new media, the AMPTP said.
"The strike continues because the union's leaders are focused on jurisdictional issues that would expand their own power, at the expense of the new-media issues that working writers care most about," the AMPTP said.
In response, the WGA West and WGA East accused the AMPTP of issuing a "misleading statement" and said "current proposals would cause writers even more economic harm in the future than they claim this strike has caused.
"To sidestep this fact, they erroneously claim we are focused on other issues," the WGAW and WGAE said. "The conglomerates are responsible for creating the economic havoc."
Compensation for work distributed over the Internet and other digital media has been central to the contract dispute. The guild also has called for unionization of writers working on reality shows and animation.
The strike that began Nov. 5 also has been costly for other industry workers. Production has been shut down on dozens of TV shows, with losses for below-the-line crewmembers exceeding $250 million, according to the AMPTP message.
The AMPTP's Web site features a constantly updated ticker with the studios' estimate of writers' losses. The figure is based on West Coast guild data from 2006, the site said.
On UnitedHollywood.com, a site run by striking writers, a similar updated ticker runs with what they estimate the AMPTP is costing the Los Angeles-area economy by its "refusal to negotiate." That number was at more than $454 million on Friday.
Money loss has been a focus of the strike in recent weeks as the labor dispute enters its second month (60th day) Thursday.
The Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. forecast in mid-December that the strike will cost the regional economy $220 million each month it continues, that includes not only lost wages but also the ripple effects on such businesses as restaurants, hotels and personal-service firms.
"We are seeing wage losses for members of the WGA, and this is spreading through the broader economy," LAEDC chief economist Jack Kyser said before the L.A. City Council on Dec. 19. "It's going to be painful and it's going to get more painful as it goes."
Wall Street firm Bear Stearns recently issued a report estimating how the ongoing labor dispute might affect stock prices of the media conglomerates.
At most, Bear Stearns predicts a new WGA contract will knock 1% annually off for the next three years of the earnings per share of companies that include Time Warner, NBC Universal, News Corp., Disney, Sony, Viacom and CBS. That is after factoring in a five times multiplier to account for the ripple effect of a beefier contract for the DGA and SAG.
The report also indicates that the strike could be a good thing in a short or even medium term, especially for networks who will benefit with replacing scripted programming with lower-cost reality TV programs or reruns.
Talks broke down between the WGA and AMPTP on Dec. 7 after the union rejected the AMPTP's demand that a half-dozen guild proposals be taken off the table, including jurisdiction over reality and animation writers.
While negotiations with the WGA are at a standstill, studios are preparing to begin contract talks with the DGA, perhaps this month.
New media also is expected to be a key issue for directors.
Whether a deal by directors will affect the writers dispute is unclear. The guilds traditionally have followed a practice of pattern bargaining, with one contract considered a template for others.
But the Writers Guild has said that it wishes the directors well, but noted they "do not represent writers. Our strike will end when the companies return to negotiations and make a fair deal with the WGA."
The Directors Guild has gone on strike only once, for just five minutes in 1987.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.