DGA Contract Vote Marks a Crossroads in Fight Over Streaming Data Transparency

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Despite immense residuals gains, some Directors Guild members want to keep pushing with other guilds to force streamers to reveal viewer numbers

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As part of its agreement with Hollywood studios, the Directors Guild of America was able to secure significant increases in residuals and tie them to future worldwide subscriber growth for streaming services. But some members say that’s not enough, as they want the DGA to push for streamers to divulge viewership data, a topic that has been a common thread among all the Hollywood unions.

While some third-party data companies like Nielsen and Samba TV have gathered some public data on the most watched TV shows and films on streaming services, streamers have kept complete information on the number of viewers that watch certain titles under heavy wraps, even to their creators.

This has created industry-wide frustration among writers, showrunners, directors and actors, who are often kept in the dark about the size of their audience. This can lead to shows being cancelled by streamers based on data that the creators of those shows either don’t see or only receive cherry-picked portions of, as creators of several animated Netflix shows accused the streaming service of doing when interviewed by TheWrap last year.

While the vast majority of talent behind streaming shows and films don’t know the size of their audience, there are some big hits that the guilds know are making their creators much less than what they bring to their streaming services.

David A. Goodman, chief negotiator and former president of WGA West, declined to comment on DGA’s specific deal but did say that a push to disclose viewership data is one of the goals of the ongoing writers strike.

“When we broke off negotiations with the AMPTP, they did offer us somewhat higher residuals but they didn’t really offer something that reflects the enormous profits that they were making from our shows worldwide,” he said. “At some point, the streamers are going to have to divulge more of this data if they want to attract advertisers, but right now they are just not budging.”

The vocal opposition

The proposed DGA contract, which members will be able to vote on through Friday evening, does not secure viewership data or tie it to residual pay. In its place, the DGA has secured a residual pay structure that is tied to the number of global subscribers that a streaming service has that will see a 21% increase in residuals for one-hour TV series and a 34% increase in residuals for films produced for streaming.

The DGA says that under the new system, the largest streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ will pay $89,415 over three years for a one-hour TV series, while three-year payments for streaming films will increase to $230,250.

Despite these significant increases, there are DGA members who feel that more must be done. In a statement posted on Twitter, “The Machine” director Peter Atencio said he voted against approving the contract despite acknowledging the “meaningful gains” in residuals and other benefits, saying that the current push on disclosing viewership data can’t be abandoned.

“We need to go back to being an industry that rewards performance and success… we need to force the studios and streaming companies to open up viewer data and properly compensate the films and series that attract the most viewers,” Atencio wrote.

“This will become particularly important as the studios try to return to advertising-driven streaming,” he added. “This will create new and profitable revenue streams for them, without requiring them to share in success with the artists who create what they’re selling… Residuals need to be tied to viewership, not subscribers.”

On top of pushing for viewership data and greater AI protections, some members also are advocating for a “No” vote not because of their own needs, but out of support for WGA and SAG-AFTRA. In a viral video, “Borat” director Larry Charles said he was grateful for the DGA negotiating committee’s work, but felt that he needed to vote against the contract in hopes that a “No” vote would show studios that members of all three guilds were holding a united front for a better deal.

“While I’m grateful to be in the Directors Guild, I found my conscience tugging at me, saying, ‘You can’t leave everyone else behind,’” he said.

Lilly Wachowski, co-creator of the “Matrix” series, shared Charles’ sentiment, saying in a Twitter thread that members of all guilds need to show “unfettered solidarity” and call for their guilds to negotiate contracts that “de-silo” benefits and protections from each other.

“I believe that as directors we need to be protecting everyone who we make art with as much as we can, and the language in our negotiations should reflect that. We need to be looking down the line at what every other union is fighting for and try to incorporate it with our own as much as possible,” she tweeted.

Susan Schurman, labor studies professor at Rutgers University, notes that such debates over whether or not a labor contract is good enough to approve are common among all unions, not just in Hollywood.

“There’s always a group of people that is pushing for more, and that’s a good thing to have in a healthy union,” she said. “Usually though, as I tell my students in my classes, it’s better to take the gains that you get and keep fighting for what you didn’t get in the next round of talks, and the DGA has negotiated a very generous package for its members.”

But Schurman also notes that the push by some members to reject the contract to help negotiate better terms for writers and actors is a real force both in Hollywood and across the United States as labor unions show more of what she calls “horizontal solidarity.”

“This is the sort of trend we saw in the first half of the 20th century when industrial production took the place of agriculture and the unions discovered that collective action between them was the only leverage that they truly had,” she said. “Now we have a whole new generation of workers discovering that organizing across unions and even whole sectors is the only way to get the labor gains they are looking for. Hollywood labor is still siloed off into different unions, but what we’re now seeing is a greater awareness of the relationship that each union’s needs have to each other.”

It’s impossible to say exactly how the DGA vote will turn out based on social media sentiment. In 2020, there was vocal opposition within SAG-AFTRA on its proposed contract, which ended up being approved with approximately three-fourths of the vote. But a year later, a hotly debated contract for IATSE passed by the narrowest of margins based on the below-the-line workers union’s delegate voting system.

The threat of pattern bargaining

But if the DGA contract does get approved, it would be expected that the AMPTP uses it to enforce pattern bargaining on the ongoing talks between SAG-AFTRA and any talks with the WGA whenever they resume. Pattern bargaining means that the AMPTP uses the DGA contract as a baseline for the offers that it makes on similar elements of other union contracts, such as minimum wage increases.

Both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA have made public statements congratulating the DGA on its tentative agreement, but have insisted that they will not remain beholden to what the Directors Guild negotiated during its own contract talks. If those guilds draw a line on making viewership data transparent while the AMPTP uses the lack of viewership data concessions in the DGA contract to block such a push, it may lead to another sticking point that could intensify Hollywood’s summer of labor discontent.

“Whatever deals they make with other unions, we are still fighting for what we said we would fight for when this strike began,” David Goodman said. “Until we get back in the negotiating room and start discussing with them our entire proposal in earnest, nothing is coming off the table.”