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Home » Electronic Media Services » Film vs. TV Contracts – What’s the Difference?

Film vs. TV Contracts – What’s the Difference?


If you have been following the ongoing strikes of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and SAG-AFTRA against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), you may wonder why some programs have halted production and others produced by the same companies have not. This may have to do with the scope of the agreements currently in negotiation.

For example, SAG-AFTRA is striking the AMPTP under their Theatrical and Television Agreements; however, their Network Code, which covers the production of news, sports, variety shows, game shows, and others is in term. These programs may continue production because they are not covered under the agreement SAG-AFTRA is striking. (That is, of course, unless they are subject to the WGA strike, which the late-night variety shows are.)

From an AFM perspective, a similar distinction exists, which may not be clear if you have never worked under these agreements. AFM Electronic Media projects are categorized into specific agreements depending on the way the musicians record their work and the way the final product is exhibited by the producer. The confusion comes from the fact that what we call “film work” and “live television work” are generally recorded in different manners, even though film work may be exhibited on television.

Film work is commonly audio-only work, to provide underscoring for a motion picture. There are, however, provisions for on-camera miming work, called sidelining. The film agreements cover projects with a narrative structure, where filming usually takes place across multiple takes and multiple days, and the musical scoring is added in post-production. These are the types of productions that SAG-AFTRA is currently striking.

On the other hand, television work is inherently audiovisual in nature and the performances that the musicians provide are almost always captured simultaneously with the rest of the program. They are programs that are aired live or are prerecorded and presented as if they were live, such as late night and daytime talk shows, variety specials, award shows, news and sports programming, and game shows.

The AFM bargains the film agreements with the AMPTP:

•Film work intended for initial release in cinemas falls under the Basic Theatrical Motion Picture Agreement.

•Film work intended for initial release on television or new media falls under the Basic Television Film Agreement.

•Sitcoms, dramas, and similar television programs all fall under the Television Film Agreement.

•Movies made for streaming services fall under the Television Film Agreement’s Made for New Media side letter, because the initial exhibition is not in cinemas.

Musicians working under the film agreements are compensated for their session work; these payments cover all uses by the producer in the original medium (cinematic release for Theatrical Motion Picture or television for Television Film). Residuals are paid through the Film Musicians’ Secondary Markets Fund, when the film is licensed for distribution through another type of media.

With regards to the live television agreements, the AFM has a wider number of contracts of this classification because the payment and broadcast pattern depends on the type of network. While we call them “live” television agreements because the productions are exhibited as live captures, this does not preclude the programs from being prerecorded.

The AFM bargains the main live television agreement, the Television Videotape Agreement, with three major television networks: CBS, ABC, and NBC. This agreement covers network television productions as well as similar productions made for new media distribution. SAG-AFTRA’s agreement for this type of production is their Network Code, though the alignment may not necessarily be exact.

The AFM also administers the National Public Television Agreement for PBS, the Basic Cable Agreement for basic cable networks, the Non-Standard Television Agreement for premium cable networks, and the Country Music Television (CMT) Agreement, bargained specifically with and for CMT.

All five of the television agreements carry a different broadcast pattern in exchange for the musicians’ initial compensation. Under the Videotape Agreement for network television, a musician is paid for their initial work and broadcast, and all repeat airings of the program pay a residual on a sliding percentage scale.

However, under the Public Television Agreement, a producer has the option of paying under one of two separate tables, one that allows one national release of the program and another that allows for four national releases in a three-year time span. Residuals only become due when the usage goes beyond the original cycle.

Under the cable agreements, the play patterns are a bit different. For Basic Cable, a producer is allowed to exhibit a program 20 times (called play dates) in a 24-month period before a residual becomes due. For premium cable networks, under the Non-Standard Television Agreement, the pattern is eight play dates in six months. For CMT, it’s 12 play dates in 36 months.

It is worth noting that all of these play patterns refer to domestic repeat airings only; foreign use and supplemental market releases will always result in a separate type of residual payment, regardless of the play pattern.

As mentioned, some of these AFM agreements expire this fall. The AFM’s film agreements with the AMPTP expire on November 13; the Videotape Agreement expires around Christmas. The PBS agreement is in the second year of a three-year term, while the cable agreements are all under extension.

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