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Film, Television Screenwriters Go on Strike

Thousands of screenwriters in Hollywood and New York went on strike for the first time since 1988 on Monday. A reporter who covers the entertainment business describes the issues that led up to the strike, including how profits are divided from DVD sales and online content.

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  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Jay Leno in reruns, unexpected twists in the daytime soaps, and who knows how the story will end for your favorite prime-time drama? Writers took to picket lines in Hollywood and New York today, the first such strike in nearly 20 years. And we look at it now with Claude Brodesser-Akner, Los Angeles bureau chief for Advertising Age magazine and host of "The Business," a show about the TV and movie industries on Southern California's public radio station KCRW.

    Well, Claude, what's this all about? What's at the heart of the dispute?

  • CLAUDE BRODESSER-AKNER, Advertising Age Magazine:

    Well, Jeff, if we could set the way-back machine back to the mid-'80s, it was then that the writers made what they couldn't have known to be the worst deal in history, but came pretty close. They sort of gave away the farm on what would come to be a $30 billion or $40 billion industry, and that's home video.

    At the time when these videocassettes were first being created, the late Jack Valenti referred to VCRs as "the Boston strangler." It was going to kill the movie business. Everyone was very wary about it. And so when the writers made this deal, they were somewhat skeptical as to whether or not it was in their interest even to have a thriving home video business.

    And the deal made was basically an 80-20 split. Without getting into too much inside baseball, it meant that 80 percent of the revenue that would be generated from home video would be reserved strictly for the studios and the companies that made these cassettes, and obviously now things have changed quite a bit.

    Things are on DVD. Things have gotten a little cheaper. The business became very robust. As a function of that, writers stand now to make about a nickel per DVD that gets sold. So it's really a pittance of what could have been a very, very big windfall for them.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    So they feel they made a bad deal back then, and now the tech world has spun again to digital downloads.

  • CLAUDE BRODESSER-AKNER:

    Correct, and they feel very strongly that the past not be their future. The great debate over is how anyone is to be paid for digital distribution, movies or TV shows that you would download on to your computer. And the writers want to make sure that they get their fair share going forward.