Sometimes it hurts to be right…

As I review the emerging discussion about the WGA deal on offer this weekend, I am reminded of an interview I did last summer with Backstage in an article called Writer Producer Talks Could Set New Precedents.

Here is the relevant paragraph:

Beyond the potential fight over old-media residuals, Diamond said now is the time for the guilds to establish a system for new-media compensation. “The key question for the guilds is: Are they positioned to exploit or leverage their unique contributions to this environment and get rewarded for it?” he said. “My concern is you can get overly pragmatic to avoid a confrontation and miss the opportunity to start resetting the debate. This is not something they’re going to win in the first round. They are not going to radically restructure the revenue-sharing model in the next negotiation. The real challenge is intellectual and strategic: Can they open the door and lay the groundwork for what I think will be a battle over the next decade?”

As I see the discontent with the deal now on the table for Writers emerge, I was reminded of what I guessed back then would be the likely outcome – modest improvement in overall dollars in the pockets of talent combined with a clear staking out of talent’s rights in the new media world. That seems to be the outcome of the WGA strike.

Of course, I was probably only right like a broken clock is right twice a day. I claim no ability to predict the future. But back then I was aware of the dramatic strategic void that exists in the EMI sector’s labor movement. In light of that void, today’s contract offer (with 2% on distributor’s gross for streaming beginning in the third year) is entirely comprehensible. To get more out of the DVD revenue pile (likely to start growing again with Blu Ray coming on line) and to stake out a larger share of the new media pie would have taken a very different strategic approach to this battle. In my eyes, the key here is the relative absence of SAG as a key player in laying the groundwork on a much larger scale in advance of the formal negotiations. Instead of exercising public strategic leadership, SAG allowed itself to be consumed with internal wrangling over issues that largely miss the boat – re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic has been my perhaps overly pessimistic metaphor of choice on this issue.

That has led to a decision today by SAG to back down from its confrontation with AFTRA and join them through the Phase 1 process of joint bargaining to try to leverage what the WGA and DGA have achieved for actors as well. (SAG reconciles with AFTRA) While clearly the right move on a tactical level, it will prove to be very disappointing to many hundreds, if not thousands, of SAG members who feel that somehow – whether or not it is justified – that the ties that bind SAG and AFTRA are the source of all of their ills. A re-emergence of the possibility of “affected voting” (which would align earnings in the industry with governance in the Guild) opens up the possibility of a longer term solution to the impasse that gripped the Guild these last 18 months.

If that governance problem can be solved then the energy and enthusiasm that is a key Guild resource can be of tremendous value in providing the leadership the industry needs to map out the future role for talent in the new digital environment. And as I have suggested here and elsewhere: if the AFL-CIO wants to exercise some much needed strategic leadership they should consider the establishment of a EMI labor center based in Los Angeles that is provided the staff and resources needed to help out all of the affiliates develop a coherent response to this complex global environment.

There is no time to waste, 2011 is just around the corner.