Watching New Girl or Homeland on a computer, smartphone or Xbox has become so second nature that it's hard to remember that new technology once brought Hollywood to a standstill.
How writers are paid for the digital distribution of their work was at the core of the 100-day work stoppage in 2007 that put primetime viewers on a diet of reality and reruns. Daily Variety deputy editor Cynthia Littleton, who chronicles the battle and its impact in her new book, TV on Strike: Why Hollywood Went to War Over the Internet, says that while many writers suffered a financial beating from the walkout, they had little choice but to take a hard line. It was a good move: Netflix, Hulu and other services that have emerged since the strike have proven that online viewing is a robust business.
"If the writers had not pushed it to the mat, the studios would not have said, 'Here's a formula for digital residuals,'" Littleton says. "I think they would have said, 'We can't do it right now.'" (The sides finally agreed on a deal that currently has writers getting an additional 3.5 percent on the minimum rerun compensation rate for a TV script.)
How long will this peace settlement last? With more money rolling in from online viewing, negotiations could get testy again when the Writers Guild contract comes up in 2014. "Not a day goes by that we don't write about a big digital-rights deal," says Littleton. "It will definitely be on the table."
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