TCA: Producers playing for time in strike watch


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, NBC's Marc Graboff and Warner Bros.' Bruce Rosenblum said Friday.

That's how long it will take to understand consumer behavior and formulate a new business model in the face of the digital revolution, they told TV critics attending the annual summer press tour at the Beverly Hilton during a session that was hastily added to the schedule. The Television Critics Association offered a similar opportunity to the Writers Guild, but the invitation was declined.

Graboff, representing the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, said 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.

Rosenblum 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 higher production costs mean that networks cannot 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 should let members negotiate individually for work that appears on the Internet, but the guild is not permitting members to do so. NBC wanted to pay writers for "The Office" to create "Webisodes" for the Internet. The writers, actors and producers were all for it "but the Writers Guild prevented our executive producers from producing them."

NBC put other content about "The Office" online, Graboff said, but the writers missed an opportunity to make extra money.