LOS ANGELES (AFP) — Hollywood screenwriters can get back to work Wednesday after voting to end their three-month strike, bringing to a close the US entertainment industry's most damaging dispute in 20 years.
Writers Guild of America (WGA) West leader Patric Verrone said members had voted overwhelmingly to end the strike, with 92.5 percent in favor following balloting conducted Tuesday in Los Angeles and New York.
"The strike is over. Our membership has voted and writers can go back to work," Verrone said.
The vote had been seen as a formality after WGA members voiced widespread support for a new contract presented to them by union leaders at the weekend. A second vote to ratify the new three-year contract will be held on February 25.
Writers downed tools on November 5, a move that sent shockwaves through the industry, forcing the postponement or cancellation of several television shows and movies, and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.
Previous contract talks between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) collapsed over the issue of payment for content broadcast free or bought over the Internet.
However a breakthrough in negotiations saw the WGA reach a tentative agreement with producers and a proposed new deal received enthusiastic backing after it was proposed to writers on Saturday.
The new deal establishes a scale of royalty payments for writers whose work is sold over the Internet or streamed for free. Previously writers received nothing for online sales.
Industry analysts say the deal is important because traditional DVD and home video rental markets will eventually be rendered obsolete as technology allowing for Internet content to be seen on television becomes more widespread.
"This was not a strike we wanted, but one we had to conduct in order to win jurisdiction and establish appropriate residuals for writing in new media and on the Internet," Verrone said.
"Rather than being shut out of the future of content creation and delivery, writers will lead the way as TV migrates to the Internet and platforms for new media are developed. Those advances now give us a foothold in the digital age."
A joint statement from the chiefs of eight major studios -- including NBC Universal, CBS, Warner Bros, and Disney -- welcomed the end of the strike.
"This is a day of relief and optimism for everyone in the entertainment industry," the statement said.
"The strike has been extraordinarily difficult for all of us, but the hardest hit of all have been the many thousands of businesses, workers and families that are economically dependent on our industry."
The writers strike has been one of the longest and most damaging in the entertainment industry's history, with losses estimated at two billion dollars, according to the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC).
According to LAEDC figures, the strike cost an estimated 733 million dollars in lost film and television production spending.
But the LAEDC said an estimated 1.3 billion was lost by companies such as caterers, hoteliers and limousine rental firms that rely heavily on the entertainment industry for business.
"There have been very significant losses for companies that rely on seasonal work. They have lost 14 weeks worth of business," said Jason Squire, a lecturer at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts and editor of "The Movie Business."
"That is a dreadful and damaging impact for smaller companies."
The strike has also severely disrupted Hollywood's awards season, leading to the cancellation of the Golden Globes awards after actors vowed to boycott the event, and casting a shadow over preparations for the February 24 Oscars.
Oscars organizers expressed delight that the Oscars will now go ahead unhindered.
"I am ecstatic that the 80th Academy Awards presentation can now proceed full steam ahead with talented writers working on the show, a fantastic array of presenters and performers and most importantly, the ability for all of our honored nominees to attend without hesitation or discomfort," said Sid Ganis, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
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