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Home » Electronic Media Services » Film vs TV: How to Know Which Agreement to Use

Film vs TV: How to Know Which Agreement to Use

  -  AFM Electronic Media Services Division Assistant Director

by John Painting, AFM Electronic Media Services Division Assistant Director

Let’s say you’re approached to contract musicians for a project that is going to end up on a basic cable network, like TBS or Lifetime, and the producer is asking about a potential budget for the musicians. You head to your local’s website and the AFM website to find the current rates. You discover that there is a Basic Cable Agreement but also a Television Film Agreement. Which one should you use?

AFM Electronic Media projects are categorized into specific agreements depending on the manner in which the musicians record their work and the manner in which the final product is exhibited by the producer. What we call “film” work and what we call “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 provisions for on-camera miming work, called “sidelining,” the specifics of which Matt Allen addresses in his article below. Film agreements cover projects with a narrative structure, wherein filming usually takes place across multiple takes and multiple days and the musical scoring is added in post-production.

“Television” work is inherently audiovisual in nature and the performances 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, game shows, and more.

The AFM bargains film agreements with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Film work intended for initial release in cinemas falls under the Basic Theatrical Motion Picture Agreement, while film work intended for initial release on television or new media falls under the Basic Television Film Agreement. Sitcoms, dramas, and documentaries 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. This is 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 (i.e., 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.

The AFM has a wider number of contracts that fall under television agreements because the payment and broadcast pattern depend on the type of network. The AFM bargains the main television agreement (Television Videotape Agreement) with the three major television networks: CBS, ABC, and NBC. This agreement covers network television productions, as well as similar productions made for new media distribution.

The AFM 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 Agreement specifically 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 the initial broadcast. Then, all repeat airings of the program will pay a residual, on a sliding percentage scale.

Under the Public Television Agreement, a producer has the option of paying under one of two separate tables. One allows for one national release of the program, while the other 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 time 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.

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.

Going back to our original example, you can see that a program airing on a basic cable network could fall under two different agreements, depending on the type of program. Even if both programs air on TBS, a house band playing on a comedy special would fall under the Basic Cable Agreement, while underscoring for an animated series would be Television Film.

If you are ever asked for the rates and conditions of a specific type of work, ask the producer the questions found in the EMSD 101 guide on page 14. This list of questions will help pinpoint which agreement should apply. In our example, you will know which agreement applies by answering the questions: what type of television show is the music being recorded for? and if it is film work, will the musicians be engaged on camera (sidelining)?

Hopefully this guide and the EMSD 101 guide will steer you toward the correct agreements. If you are ever unsure, do not hesitate to contact the AFM Electronic Media Service Division (EMSD) and ask.

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