The agencies say they don’t buy that argument. To bolster the agents’ position, United Talent Agency conducted an analysis meant to show that writers earned more from packaged shows than non-packaged shows. With packaging, the agencies argue, the interests of agents and writers are directly aligned. Because agencies don’t make money on failed shows, the agents argue, they have the same motivation as writers in creating hits.
Did the agencies consider getting rid of packaging fees during talks?
No. The Association of Talent Agents offered a counterproposal under which the agents would have handed over 1 percent of packaging-fee profits to writers from successful series. The W.G.A. said this was “not a serious proposal.”
How does the agencies’ entry into the production business play into the dispute?
There are agency-affiliated companies that have moved into the production business — and this does not sit well with the writers unions.
W.M.E., for instance, has an affiliate company called Endeavor Content. It was formed in 2017 and is a distributor of the show “Killing Eve,” as well as a producer of an epic drama coming from Apple TV Plus called “See.” C.A.A. also has an affiliate: Wiip. It is a producer of “Dickinson,” a comedy series that is also part of the Apple rollout scheduled for the fall. United Talent Agency is also getting in on production, with an affiliate called Civic Center Media. It has teamed up with M.R.C., the producer of “House of Cards,” to make new shows.
The agencies have argued that these affiliates are artist-friendly studios that will help writers, because they add to the number of potential buyers — which means more competition for writers’ services and bigger paychecks. The writers have said that agencies have a conflict of interest when they act as studios. How, they ask, can an agent represent you and also be your boss?
Have the agencies considered getting out of the production business?
Nope. They offered to meet with the writers unions four times a year in an effort to demonstrate that the affiliated studios were benefiting their members. The W.G.A. called this arrangement “unacceptable.”
What does all this have to do with Peak TV?
With the rise of streaming, there are more shows than ever before, a phenomenon often called Peak TV. Writers say their pay has not reflected the boom. Weekly earnings for television writers declined 23 percent between 2014 and 2016, according to W.G.A. figures. And pay on a per-episode basis, when adjusted for inflation, has also declined since the 1990s, the W.G.A. said.