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Home » Officer Columns » New Cable TV Contracts; Legal Action in Hollywood

New Cable TV Contracts; Legal Action in Hollywood

  -  AFM International President

After difficult negotiations and the eventual April 1 ratification of successor symphonic media and motion picture-TV film agreements, the Federation turned toward renewing open agreements in cable television and contract enforcement in Hollywood.

I am pleased to report that progressive new agreements have been reached with the producers of Conan, featuring Conan O’Brien, and with Viacom for content produced for Country Music Television (CMT). Wages and benefits were improved, all-important use and reuse features were preserved, and both deals are now headed for a ratification vote by eligible musicians.

The Conan and CMT negotiations also served as a prelude to talks scheduled to get underway early this fall with producers signatory to our National Public Television (NPTV) Agreement, which covers familiar programs such as Sesame Street, Great Performances, Austin City Limits, Sound Stage, Live from Lincoln Center, and regular special programming, such as the quadrennial Van Cliburn Piano Competition in Fort Worth.

Our cable and public television negotiations also serve as a backdrop and as preparation for other upcoming industry-wide media negotiations with CBS, NBC, and ABC television and also tangentially with the major record labels for our pending sound recording discussions.

In the age of digitization, where convergence of new media production and content distribution is accelerating, technology is blurring the traditional distinctions between broadcasting and other media across all elements of the supply chain. A substantial increase in the availability of media content online—from broadcasters, webcasters, social media sites, iTunes, and YouTube, to name a few sources—on an increasing array of connected devices and screens, is driving greater flexibility in how and where media is consumed.

This modern techno-economic paradigm has created fresh urgency for the Federation to keep current on all media agreements, as well as to negotiate new terms to address changing business models and organizational frameworks. A case in point is our Radio-TV Commercial Announcements (Jingle) Agreement where we negotiated whopping increases to use fees in online advertising.

The rapidly changing media environment also calls for strict enforcement of existing agreements. Through recent e-mail blasts, I’ve kept you informed of lawsuits filed against the major film studios for violation of contract provisions that obligate producers to score films in the US and Canada, when they are filmed in the US and Canada. In one instance, a recent Paramount production was shot in and around Jackson, Mississippi, but was scored in Slovakia.

And during our just-concluded motion picture-TV film negotiations we learned that a particular contract provision regulating the use of clips from post-1960s film soundtracks had been repeatedly violated. Hundreds of clips had been used without paying the musicians who recorded them, giving rise to studio financial obligations estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. When I attempted to explore options to settle those obligations at the close of negotiations, one company representative said, “Just sue us.” They dared us; they never thought we’d do it, because we haven’t been doing it. So quickly we did it. Surprise, surprise!

In the six weeks since the film contract was ratified, we’ve sued every major film studio either for offshoring union jobs or for clip use violations. It’s an unprecedented amount of court enforcement action filed by our union, and it’s been a long time coming. Just as surprising, some studios asked for immediate settlement discussions.

But while the Federation’s legal activities were certainly warranted, the Hollywood press coverage lent an unusual public nature to our dispute process with the film studios. Contract compliance and enforcement issues are handled by other entertainment unions with grievance and arbitration provisions, bypassing the courts in favor of internal dispute resolution through joint meetings or by a neutral arbitrator.

Despite our attempts to negotiate for them, there are no grievance and arbitration provisions in our contracts with the film and TV producers, or the record companies, making the courts our port of last resort. In the Jingle and Broadway Touring (Pamphlet B) agreements where we’ve obtained good grievance and arbitration language and have filed and resolved numerous grievances, we’ve seen fewer contract compliance problems.

In case anybody thinks we are the only union disputing contract provisions with the studios, think again. The other entertainment unions routinely grieve and arbitrate their contracts. You just don’t see it in the press, because grievance processes are internal and out of the public eye. The studios and record companies don’t like bad press and they don’t like getting sued either. Better to live up to the contracts and avoid the courtroom. We shall see.

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