More details emerge on streaming residuals for writers and actors

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We now have a few more details on exactly how, following this year’s strikes, the streaming residuals for both actors and writers will work in the future. 

The strikes that crippled Hollywood and forced major studios to delay most of their slate have finally come to an end. The Writers’ Guild of America (WGA) reached and agreement with Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) in late September and the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) followed on 9th November. 

One of the key issues in both negotiations was streaming residuals. Writers and actors typically get a fee every time their project is broadcast, but in the era of streaming, these residuals have begun to seem a bit small when platforms allow subscribers to stream hours and hours of TV shows and films. 

Deadline has done a comprehensive explanation on just how the new agreement between the streamers and guilds works. Essentially, both have agreed to “success-based” bonuses. Mind you, this is the bit of the article where we’ll throw a lot of percentages your way. 

Members of SAG-AFTRA on strike.
Credit: Getty Images

How will the new streaming residuals work?

A project has to accumulate a specific amount of domestic views in the first 90 days of premiering for it to be eligible for the new bonus. Views are counted by the hours viewed divided by the project’s runtime rather than the number of unique accounts watching. It’s obviously a pretty flawed way of measuring viewership but no better alternative seems to exist. 

The model currently also only applied on scripted, high budget subscription video on demand series, meaning anything on Amazon Freevee for example isn’t eligible. Amazon will struggle overall as anyone with an Amazon Prime membership has access to Prime Video and will be counted as a subscriber, regardless of if they watch shows like Dead Ringers, The Boys or The Peripheral. With nearly 170m domestic subscribers, that 20 percent threshold becomes near impossible to reach. 

How much will creatives receive in the future from streaming residuals?

If their project is eligible and reaches the criteria, a WGA member will receive an additional 50 percent of their fixed residual. For SAG-AFTRA members, it’s a slightly different case. The streamers will pay them 100 percent of their fixed residual, but the performer will only receive 75 percent of this, with the remaining 25 percent going into a fund that is controlled by SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP and will be distributed among the union’s members. 

This has caused some concern as it leaves it quite open as to how the money will be used and distributed. SAG-AFTRA’s National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said the fund is “for other actors who work in made-for-streaming content that’s exhibited on those same platforms.”

stranger things (1)
Stranger Things. Credit: Netflix

So while shows like Bridgerton and Stranger Things will almost certainly always qualify for the extra payments, the fund would ensure that actors who appear in projects that will never meet the criteria will also get something. 

“The intent is to broaden this so that it’s not just the folks who worked on the most successful programs [who benefit], but also people who worked on other programs that are on the platform, but which maybe didn’t rise to that level of hit status that triggered the 20 percent threshold,” Crabtree-Ireland told Deadline. If a performer receives the success-based bonus, they won’t be eligible for the fund payment. 

Will all programmes and films be eligible for the success-based bonus?

It seems that all of this only applies to the streamers’ original content. However, most streamers build their library by heavily relying on licensed shows and films. The residual deal for these usually rely on the project being broadcast multiple times, but streaming has changed all of that, and it seems that little has changed for shows that Netflix has licensed for their use. 

The success-based bonuses will not work for shows like Suits or The Office. The streaming service, in this case Netflix, will only continue to pay out a previously agreed licensing fee to the studio. Usually, the creatives involved in a project will receive a very small percentage of this. 

We already mentioned Stranger Things and Bridgerton as examples of TV shows that will certainly benefit from the new structure, but Deadline’s article also mentions smaller shows like Poker Face, which aired on Sky in the UK and on Peacock in America, as a potential one that would benefit from it – as well as Disney Plus’s Secret Invasion. It seems that Amazon will struggle immensely because of the sheer number of subscribers who don’t necessarily watch any of Prime Video’s content.

It’s not a perfect system, but it’s a step forward at least. Hopefully this will open the door for more negotiations when it comes to streaming residuals and streamers releasing more accurate and detailed data over their viewership. 

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