ATA Sticks With Packaging Fees in Latest Counterproposal to Writers Guild

WGA and agencies present conflicting reports on impact

Talks between the Writers Guild of America and the Association of Talent Agents continued on Thursday, but with less than a week to go before WGA votes on a new code of conduct for agents, there’s still no resolution on the key dividing issue: packaging.

“We  had an extensive dialogue with the Guild today. We presented its leadership with our formal counterproposals in a draft agreement, and  we hope they will follow-up in good faith to move this process forward,” said ATA Executive Director Karen Stuart in a statement. The WGA declined to comment.

ATA’s counterprosal, posted to its official site Thursday, doesn’t differ much from the informal counterproposal made public on March 12. Talent Agencies aren’t backing down on their commitment to package deals. However, the latest document explains in greater detail how they say they will provide transparency and greater consent for writers when it comes to packaging.

Over the past week, the WGA and one of the top agencies in Hollywood, United Talent Agency, have published dueling reports on the impact that packaging fees have had on how much writers get paid. UTA argues that by including writers in packaging deals instead of taking a ten percent commission, they have been able to save their writer clients an average of $2,439.

But in their own report published Thursday, the WGA released their own report showing that TV writers with producer credits have not seen their pay increase in relation to inflation rates over the past 20 years.

For example, the report notes that a supervising producer on a one-hour drama in the 1990s made an average $17,500 per episode, “That would be $27,300 in today’s dollars,” the report said. “But again, 17 years later, supervising producers at the median were making only $17,500 per episode.”

The WGA also said that while their members’ earnings hit an all-time high of $1.4 billion in 2017, median wages are still dropping. That is something the guild blames agencies for, as they claim that agents “have not kept up their end of the bargain by fighting for increases in their clients’ over-scale payments.”

Packaging fees, the guild argues, are to blame because they have allowed agencies to capitalize on the demand for more TV programming by increasing the fees they receive for packaging deals for shows that can run for years, rather than operate on a commission system that directly ties how much agents earn to how much money they secure for their writers.

“This has to change,” the WGA said. “Agency interests must be realigned so that agents are incentivized to demand that writers are properly compensated. We are living through an era of unprecedented prosperity for the media companies. If demand is at an all-time high, why are writers’ episodic quotes lower, not higher?”

The WGA has scheduled a four-day membership vote that will begin on March 27 to authorize the guild to enforce a new Code of Conduct requiring agencies to remove all package fees from their deals in order to represent writers. If the vote is approved, the Code will be enforced on April 7, with the WGA calling on its members to leave any agency that refuses to comply.