LOS ANGELES (AFP) — Hollywood writers went on strike Monday after last-minute talks aimed at ending a standoff between studios and wordsmiths collapsed, with the union demanding a share of cash brought in from DVDs and online distribution of shows.
"The strike is on," Writers Guild of America spokeswoman Sherry Goldman told AFP.
The strike deadline was a minute into Monday in each US time zone, meaning writers in New York City were the first to walk off their jobs, according to Goldman.
An 11th-hour negotiating session was held with the help of a federal mediator Sunday, but it broke down without achieving any results.
Members of the 12,000-strong union plan to begin picketing Monday morning at major studios in the Los Angeles area and outside NBC studio at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan.
The first casualties of the walk-out are likely to be talk shows, soap operas, and comedy programs that rely on fresh scripts.
Major motion picture studios and television programs typically have stockpiles of scripts that can insulate them from feeling the effects of the strike for a year or longer.
Writers want a greater share of residual profits from television series sold on DVDs and money made from programs shown on the Internet, cellular phones, and other new media outlets.
Producers acknowledge that online viewing is increasing and promise to study the issue, but argue that it is too early to say how profitable it will be.
Writers are determined not to repeat a mistake made decades earlier, when they underestimated how lucrative home video sales would become and settled for a contract that gives them just three cents of each DVD film sale.
"The biggest sticking point is new media, new technology," Goldman said after the strike began. "Our mantra is, 'if they get paid, we get paid'."
Writers get 1.2 percent of revenues from shows streamed online for one-time viewing but get nothing from content downloaded to own from websites such as iTunes.
"This technology has boomed," Goldman said. "We need to get paid for new media," she said, rattling off new-fangled ways movies now are viewed, including "webisodes," "mobisodes" and "snippets."
"More of this is being shown on computer screens and we get nothing," she said.
For example, if an entire blockbuster film supported by ads is shown free of charge on the Internet, writers get no money because studios label the display "promotional."
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) has refused to discuss anything related to new media in negotiations during the past three months, Goldman said.
"There is no common ground," the union spokeswoman said.
Producers reject the guild's demands as unworkable and too expensive, setting the stage for the first major strike by Hollywood writers in nearly 20 years.
The strike call came after talks between the guild and the AMPTP broke down hours before an existing agreement expired on October 31.
"We are very disappointed with ... the action they took," Nicholas Counter, president of the AMPTP, said of the unionists.
Counter contends that the union's public argument is laden with "falsehoods, misstatements and inaccuracies" and promised specifics at a later date.
Industry analysts predict a lengthy shutdown lasting several months, with one estimate of potential losses set at more than one billion dollars.
A WGA strike in 1988 lasted 22 weeks and cost the industry an estimated 500 million dollars.
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