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Home » Officer Columns » Campaign for Fairness in Streaming Media Begins in Los Angeles

Campaign for Fairness in Streaming Media Begins in Los Angeles

  -  AFM International President

As this column is being written, the first leadership training and organizing committee development sessions are concluding at Local 47 (Los Angeles, CA) in preparation for an IEB-supported, Federation-wide, member-driven campaign to win industry-standard wages, residual payments, and benefits for musicians who perform and record TV and film content made for streaming platforms. The campaign also seeks to establish meaningful new revenue from film and TV streaming that would boost contributions toward our pension fund.

Recently, the same TV networks and film studios with which we negotiate agreed to make residual payments and increased pension and health contributions to actors, writers, and directors when content is made for streaming, but have refused to do so for musicians. It is unconscionable that these wealthy global companies have decided that some digital content creators deserve compensation that reflects the value of their work, but that musicians don’t.

Any industry trend toward a streaming distribution model that excludes a residual compensation and pension contribution basis for musicians, who contribute as much or more to a film as anyone else, is unacceptable and due for an all-out fight for fairness. The livelihood and health of new generations of musicians and their families, and the security of our pension fund, is at stake.

And it’s not like the media industry has a money problem, because it doesn’t. There’s gobs of money there—extraordinarily deep pockets. In fact, there is more money to get from TV and film production and distribution than anywhere else in the entertainment business. So yes, there is enormous potential to not only treat TV and film musicians fairly, but also to bolster contributions to the pension fund. How enormous you ask?

Let’s look at the movie studios’ 2018 box office, which raked in more than $41 billion worldwide—another record-breaking performance in 2018. It’s the fifth time in the past seven years that film box office results saw an increase over the previous year’s totals. Disney saw more than $7 billion in box office revenue for the year, the leading share; Warner more than $5 billion; Paramount, Universal, and Sony, $4 billion each; and the experts say 2019 will be even better.

Domestic TV networks’ 2018 advertising revenue was $45 billion. Domestic pay TV (cable) 2018 revenue was $100 billion but will decline to $75 billion by 2023. Cable TV money is moving to over-the-top (OTT) media services, which experienced 2018 revenue—including Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Sling TV, DirectTVNow—of $30 billion, with Netflix accounting for some $20 billion. Satellite TV 2018 revenue was $39 billion.

fairness in streaming media
AFM President Ray Hair speaking at a July 2018 rally outside TV contract negotiations: “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not gonna take it anymore!” Musicians are demanding that the networks #RespectTheBand by ensuring they are paid for advertiser-supported and subscription-based streaming.

Now let’s look at the tech companies. Google’s 2018 revenue was $136 billion, with Google-owned YouTube (powered by user-generated content) good for $15 billion of that. As of May 2018, Google ranked third among worldwide Internet companies with a market capitalization of $739 billion. Amazon was second at $783 billion, and Apple was first at $924 billion.

In contrast, the global pharmaceutical industry was worth $935 billion in 2017, and was expected to reach $1 trillion by 2019.

The numbers are staggering. Last month in this column, I explained that worldwide digital revenue in the entertainment and media industry totaled $616 billion in 2013. That figure is expected to rise to $1 trillion this year. How much of that good money will musicians get, compared to what the companies, the agents, the middlemen, and everyone else in the industry will get?

Look at Spotify, as an example. The audio streaming platform employed 311 workers in 2011. Today, Spotify’s revenue is estimated to be $6.5 billion. The company had 4,165 employees in 2018, who earned an average annual salary of $132,000. The sound recording industry is much smaller than the global Internet companies referenced above, but under our new Sound Recording Labor Agreement, the labels pay more than $10 million yearly into AFM’s pension and residual funds. We need additional new money for our pension fund, and lots of it. Audiovisual streaming media is where we can get it.

We can make the producers do what’s right for musicians and our pension fund only if we come together as a union and apply pressure on the networks and studios. There is a place for all members and all locals in the campaign process. The locals where production is taking place—New York, Nashville, Los Angeles—will naturally play a major role.

We will escalate public pressure on the producers. We will demonstrate a united front from musicians and from others who are being shortchanged as the producers use streaming technology to transform good-paying jobs into bad ones. There are pressure points that can make a difference with producers, and we will draw support for our fight from our allies in labor and in other industries.

The International Executive Board has committed the Federation toward the provision of adequate resources and timely communication for our campaign to modernize our contracts, ensure good jobs, and secure a healthy pension fund for generations to come.

In unity there is strength. The success of our efforts and the future of our union depends on the degree to which we are organized and our determination to join together in unity to achieve fairness for musicians everywhere. Divided, we can’t. Together, we can.

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