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Writers Guild Casts Doubt on UTA Report in Packaging Fee Dispute: ‘A False Premise’

Agency’s report says packaging fees do not affect how much writers get paid, but WGA says the report is flawed

In an attempt to counter the Writers Guild of America’s claims that agency packaging fees damage writers’ pay, United Talent Agency released a report on Wednesday saying that their TV writer clients were paid more on average on packaged shows than non-packaged shows.

The study analyzed more than 18,000 TV episodes for which UTA received a full or split packaging fee, and approximately 15,000 episodes where there was no package. The results showed that packaged shows paid an average of $24,389 per episode, 16 percent higher than the $21,015 average for non-packaged shows. The study also says that packaging saved writers an extra $2,439 that would have otherwise gone to agents through a commission.

“The data refutes any assumption or claim that packaging causes UTA to fight any less aggressively to gain the highest possible fees on shows that UTA packages,” the study reads. “The data confirms that UTA negotiates the highest rates possible for its writer clients regardless of whether a show is a UTA package or not.”

But the study does not differentiate pay average for lower and mid-level writers compared to showrunners, something that WGA President David A. Goodman pointed out in his response to the report.

“The agencies say that stagnation for lower and mid-level writers is not the result of packaging, that the data proves that writers working on agency-packaged shows are not disadvantaged. This is a false premise,” he wrote.

“There is no way to compare what writers would make in a world with agency packaging and without agency packaging. Agency packaging is so dominant that it controls the whole market for writers in television. Besides the Disney Channel, virtually all shows are packaged.”

Talks between the WGA and the Association of Talent Agents have done little to bridge the divide on packaging fees, which the WGA has called to be eliminated from the entertainment industry for being a conflict of interest. The current pact between the WGA and ATA is set to expire on April 7, and the guild is calling on its members to fire their agents if they do not agree to a new Code of Conduct that would require agents to take a ten percent commission instead of a packaging fee. The authorization vote on that Code of Conduct will be held from March 27-31.

The WGA says it is planning to meet again with the ATA later this week, but no official date has been scheduled.