Writers strike may draw to a close soon

By Lynn Elber

LOS ANGELES – A breakthrough in contract talks has been reached between Hollywood studios and striking writers and could lead to a tentative deal as early as next week, a person close to the ongoing negotiations said Saturday.

The two sides breached the gap Friday on the thorniest issues, those concerning compensation for projects distributed via the Internet, said the person, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

A second person familiar with the talks, also speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to comment publicly, said that significant progress had been made and a deal might be announced within a week.

The people did not provide specific details on the possible agreement. Major points of contention include how much and when writers are paid for projects delivered online after they’ve been broadcast on TV.

The studios have been insisting that programs be streamed online for a certain period, deemed promotional, during which writers would forgo residuals. When payment kicked in, the companies sought to limit it to a flat $1,200 fee, while the guild wanted a percentage of a distributor’s revenue.

The Writers Guild of America did not immediately reply to a request for comment. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the trade group representing the studios, declined comment, citing a news blackout agreed to by both sides.

Guild leaders have said they are fighting for a piece of the future, reflecting the widespread belief that Internet-delivered entertainment fare would inevitably claim an increasing and perhaps even dominant market share.

Although work remains to be done on elements of the agreement, prospects for a deal appeared solid, said those close to the situation. The tentative agreement would have to be approved by a majority of guild members.

The guild, whose 3-month-old strike has brought the entertainment industry to a standstill, began informal talks with top media company executives Jan. 23 in an attempt to reach a new deal covering governing work for film, TV and digital media.

Negotiations between the guild and alliance negotiators collapsed Dec. 7 after the alliance demanded that proposals for unionization of animation and reality shows be taken off the table. The guild refused.

During the negotiations impasse, the Directors Guild of America began its own talks with studio chiefs and swiftly reached a tentative deal that was announced Jan. 17 and covered some of the digital media issues key to the writers guild.

Major studio executives called on the writers guild to begin informal talks, which essentially are standing in for formal negotiations, according to those familiar with the situation.