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Home » Recent News » Negotiating Pivotal Media Contracts in the Age of New Media

Negotiating Pivotal Media Contracts in the Age of New Media


by Marc Sazer, President Recording Musicians Association (RMA) and member of Locals 47 (Los Angeles, CA) and 802 (New York City)

Marc Sazer

Our AFM negotiates three major filmed media contracts, the Motion Picture, Television Film, and Live TV/Videotape contracts. Together, these CBAs are responsible for more than $150 million of AFM wages and support the livelihoods of thousands of AFM musicians. This year, we are facing pivotal negotiations for all three. Since all of our electronic media contracts are interdependent and intertwined, there will be historic consequences for our shared futures. AFM President Ray Hair has written a series of IM columns over the past few months that give a strategic overview of trends in recorded media, which I recommend you review. This column focuses on the immediate here and now of our contract negotiations.

Unions representing directors, writers, actors, and others who work on film and television shows negotiated significant improvements in new media in 2017. For all of us in the industry, it has become clear that new media is both the future and the present.

  • “Disney Makes $52.4 Billion Deal for 21st Century Fox in Big Bet on Streaming” (The New York Times, December 14, 2017)
  • “Disney to End Netflix Deal and Launch Its Own Streaming Service” (The Verge, August 8, 2017)
  • “Cannes Film Festival Takes on Netflix with New Rule” (The Guardian, May 11, 2017)

We are facing a seismic shift in the way filmed media is produced and distributed. More and more, our jobs will come from projects created initially for streaming, rather than for theaters, networks, or cable. How will professional musicians be able to make a sustainable livelihood?

We know that recording music budgets are generally shrinking and that music budgets for new media are even tighter. In film and TV, musicians’ wages are now almost always dependent on composer’s packages, rather than studio budgets. What can we accomplish in these negotiations that will allow us to make a living in this new environment?

The other unions negotiated increased residuals for all types of new media, as well as sharply shortened streaming windows before residuals are triggered. They also negotiated substantial residuals for advertising-based video on demand (AVOD), such as YouTube, network websites, etc. Payments for subscriber video on demand (SVOD), such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon, will now be subject to sliding residual scales based on the number of subscribers the service has. For example, Netflix will pay a higher residual rate as a result of having more than 20 million subscribers. The other unions have also moved from freely negotiated scales (which still prevail for low budget streaming projects) to set wage scales for high budget SVOD (HBSVOD). HBSVOD are programs made for SVOD that have budgets equivalent to theatrical and broadcast television programs.

Each of our sister unions negotiated upfront wage increases, as well as different methods of increasing contributions to their respective health and pension funds. Three years ago, film and television musicians voted to send 1.5% of our residuals fund as an unallocated contribution to our pension fund. The AFM has prioritized strengthening our US pension fund in each of our other AFM recording contracts as well.

Over the coming months, we will continue to reach out to the musicians who work under these contracts so that their voices can be heard. However, this round of negotiations in 2018 will impact every AFM member in the long run. Our greatest strength lies in our solidarity.

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