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Battlestar Galactica 'Webisodes' Conflict Brewing 199

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the other-starbucks dept.
nebaz writes "MSNBC has an article saying that there is tension between NBC and Ron Moore and team about the royalties on the 'Webisodes' of Battlestar Galactica. The episodes have been seized by NBC, balking at Ron Moore's refusal to produce any more episodes, due to compensation issues."
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Battlestar Galactica 'Webisodes' Conflict Brewing

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  • by tomhudson (43916) <barbara.hudsonNO@SPAMbarbara-hudson.com> on Thursday October 19, 2006 @11:49PM (#16512459) Journal
    Send in 6 to negotiate. That cylon seems to get her way most of the time, for some reason.
  • Uh.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 20, 2006 @12:03AM (#16512527)
    This is an industry-wide battle between creatives and network/studio execs that goes way beyond this one show. Most of the unions [wga.org] completely messed up years ago negotiating residuals for the home markets (VHS and DVDs especially), so there's a LOT of resistence to giving away the farm this time. (Many writers, for example, in movie animation get zero [latimes.com] residuals.) Unfortunately, there's a lot of momentum and precedents that resulted from the previous mistakes, so it's kind of an uphill battle for the writers, directors, actors guilds. The future gets even more complicated when writers, actors, and other artists work directly for the Internet, for phones, for games, etc. and when "reality" shows claim to not have writers at all or won't allow their writers to organize [wga.org]. Plus there's the issue of residuals for older content that wasn't even imagined when the shows were produced in the first place.

    So yeah, it's a mess, and there's gonna be conflict in this arena for a while.
  • by ackthpt (218170) * on Friday October 20, 2006 @12:07AM (#16512549) Homepage Journal

    NBC Universal, the studio behind "Battlestar," refused to pay residuals or credit the writers of these "Webisodes," claiming they're promotional materials.

    not pay writers? sheet. if these people worked for nbc, would nbc not pay them for the time during their work day they wrote?

    "you get no pay, peon, that was your break!"

    see how they feel if you lift the webisodes an puth them on your own site.

    • by BladesP9 (722608) on Friday October 20, 2006 @12:20AM (#16512631)
      Right now NBC Universal is in the process of doing a lot of quirky things. I heard just today they're scaling back production of their "8-9pm dramas" to make room for more game a reality-type shows because they are cheaper to produce. NBC Universal is rumored to be about to lay off 700 people as a result of dropping profits and what not. Personally, I think it's a crock of crap and is just the studio making a cash grab and trying to screw the creative types out of their money. It's been a historical theme that business people will always try to screw creative people.... however the creative types today are a lot smarter than they used to be. It should be interesting to see how it shapes out. With all of the on-demand and downloadable styles of content, I think it's prudent to make sure these businesses remain viable - but screwing the artists isn't the way to do it.
      • by Malakusen (961638)
        That sounds an awful lot like when FOX went from cool to suck. Now they've gone from suck to blow.
        • by AceCaseOR (594637)
          Agreed - the only show on FOX I watch is House. That's it. No American Idol, no Bones (though I've been tempted to watch it because David Boreanaz is on it), no Standoff (though I've been tempted to watch it because Gina Torres is on it) and no 24 (I'd rather just get the DVD and just watch the series at one whack).
    • by psiphiorg (566033) on Friday October 20, 2006 @12:57AM (#16512841) Homepage Journal
      > not pay writers? sheet. if these people worked for nbc, would nbc not pay them for the time during their work day they wrote?

      Nobody said that they weren't paid at all. The article just says that they don't get paid residuals, which are extra payments, above and beyond what they are initially paid for their work, that writers (among other professions) get paid when their material is aired again, whether as a regular rerun during the season, during a marathon, or in syndication.

      There are some good debatable issues here. When the show is broascast on television as a rerun, that is obviously a second airing, which generates residuals. But when is the "second airing" for a downloadable episode?

      If one million people download an episode over the course of one week, should that count as one million "airings", or seven (one per day), or just one (for the week)?

      If residuals are to be based on how long an episode is available for download, will that cause networks to remove episodes after a week, because to keep it up longer would trigger more payments to the writers (et al.)?

      davidh
      • by bm_luethke (253362) <luethkeb@comcasL ... t minus math_god> on Friday October 20, 2006 @02:41AM (#16513347)
        One of the other issues is that revenue is not a standard term. If it were then you could negotiate that you garner a specific percentage of that revenue.

        The problem is that no one will do gross. That is reasonable - there are many places where a real gross is really really high and the real net is zero or a loss. Take advertising for instance - pretty much all a loss (and this is where the OP is talking about). While it is purely a cost, it still increases net revenue by quite a bit.

        If you do net then the studios play with costs - every thing becomes one and non-solid costs are greatly inflated. Say, for instance, one could say the five minutes by the studio exec to read over a document and sign it cost the company 5 million, to be deducted from the gross (and since it grossed 4 million that is a loss). Therefore you get no money. This occurs quite often.

        If the studios were somewhat honest this wouldn't be such an issue. You could simply do a percentage of net income (or maybe even gross income). However the powers that be try and actively screw people out of money and are in a position to do so easily. Do all of them do it? I do not know - I suspect there are honest players out there who figure a happy well compensated employee makes you MUCH more than a screwed one (which is very true). However from my view it seems pretty much all the big players do not do this - including trying hard line DRM initiatives that screw customers (read - the RIAA and MPAA).

        Eh, this is what a union is for. I've seen many cases where unions demand unreasonable ideas (it has resulted in more than one company moving labor out of country). Yet, this is precisely what they are intended to fix. If nearly everyone decides to do this there is no choice, if enough choose to go around the union then maybe it isn't that harsh on you and you need to re-evaluate your complaints. That's a free market for you.
  • Beyond Jericho? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by SleepyHappyDoc (813919) on Friday October 20, 2006 @12:24AM (#16512653)
    I wonder if this is related or similar to what happened to the Jericho webisodes...there was one, corresponding to the pilot, but now the CBS website has been re-worked to remove all references to it.
  • Pay them (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tod DeBie (522956) on Friday October 20, 2006 @12:27AM (#16512677)
    As I recall, actors were not initially paid for VHS sales because they were not covered in the contract...

    These things are clearly more than commericals and the actors should be paid. Heck, even actors in commericals get paid.

  • [BLEEP] (Score:3, Funny)

    by CrtxReavr (62039) <crtxreavr@nosPAm.trioptimum.com> on Friday October 20, 2006 @12:30AM (#16512693)
    Frak!

    -CR

  • Pfff (Score:5, Funny)

    by Kingrames (858416) on Friday October 20, 2006 @12:34AM (#16512711)
    I give Baltar 1 hour before he caves in and the situation is "resolved."
  • by Warbringer87 (969664) on Friday October 20, 2006 @12:44AM (#16512761)
    I know some people must have seen this comming, but you'd think they'd act before this became such a big issue. As time goes on, I am sure some new method of distributing stuff or new forms of media will eventually cause this problem again. If they didn't think of this being a problem all those years ago, what lies down the road in 10, 20 years time?
  • by be-fan (61476) on Friday October 20, 2006 @12:49AM (#16512787)
    Whatever BSG's writers want, give it to them. They're far better than the writers on nearly every other one of your shows, and is one of the highlights of a network this is otherwise deservedly in last place among the big four.
    • So why wasn't Series 2 anything like as well-written as Series 1? Series 2 relies on plot-twists whereas Series one has much better storytelling build up, character interaction, charm etc.

      I'm assuming a change of writers but would like to know for sure.
      • by elrous0 (869638) *
        Season 1 is definitely better than 2. Season 2 only had maybe 3 truly great episodes, whereas season 1 (despite being shorter) had 5 or 6.

        -Eric

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 20, 2006 @12:50AM (#16512793)
    I write music for some of these shows and let me tell you, you have no idea how deep the well goes. Most of us get ZERO royalties per download off of shows on itunes. ASCAP/BMI refuses to track them on the internet. Thus, as the viewing audience shifts, they are trying to squeeze us out. It's amazing really.
    • by demallien2 (991621) on Friday October 20, 2006 @07:16AM (#16514415)
      Wait, if that's true (I note that you posted as an AC...), I just had a horrible thought. We have DRM on the iTunes episodes because we are told that this stops pirating, so people pay for the episode instead. The networks tell us this is a good thing, because it means more money to pay for more shows = more content for us. But now we are being told that the money doesn't go back to the creative talent, ie presumably it goes into the oversized pockets of company execs/shareholders. Come again?!?!

      Please note, I am one of the rare /.ers that actually believes DRM to be a reasonable idea. I write software for a living, and don't like the idea that others can just take my products that I have worked hard on without me getting anything in return. I even do DRM for a living just at the moment! But still, DRM is ONLY justifiable if the money made means more content (better content!) is produced.
    • by Xugumad (39311)
      Do you get royalties based on viewing figures, normally, then?
  • by Gerocrack (979018) on Friday October 20, 2006 @12:50AM (#16512795)
    Marc Graboff, West Coast president of NBC Universal TV, was torn in half by a conflicted Victoria's Secret model.
  • Watchmen (Score:5, Informative)

    by dunsurfin (570404) on Friday October 20, 2006 @12:50AM (#16512797)
    DC Comics pulled a similar stunt on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons with Watchmen badges ("pins" to the American audience). The badges were sold in comic stores and used the iconic designs that Moore had envisioned and Gibbons had illustrated. DC Comics happily cashed the proceeds but did not send any of the profits to Moore and Gibbons since these were "promotional items." Alan Moore did not react well to this....
    • Re:Watchmen (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Jeff DeMaagd (2015) on Friday October 20, 2006 @01:25AM (#16512965) Homepage Journal
      That was sleazy. If the item is intended to be purchased by the person getting the item, it's definitely not a promotional item, or at least in my opinion, it shouldn't be. That's one of the kind of things I am not surprised to read about with regards to the comic book industry.
      • by jandrese (485)
        Ultimately, these guys need to kick their union and get them to specify that promotional materials cannot be purchased by the consumer, and must be of lesser value (based on market value) than anything they come bundled with. Reclassifing stuff that they're selling as "promotional materials" is clearly bogus, and they need to be called on it.
    • by Malakusen (961638)
      On the one hand, that's pretty screwed up. On the other hand, that's still pretty screwed up, but I really really wish I had one. Loved the Watchmen.
  • by denebian devil (944045) on Friday October 20, 2006 @01:03AM (#16512861)
    Seems to me as much creative energy went into creating those webisodes as did the full TV episodes (albeit 3 minutes at a time). It's not like the webisodes are just clips of scenes from other episodes all strung together into a 30 second commercial... they are all unique content, things you can't get from just watching TV episodes.

    I wonder if the actors got paid for the time they spent shooting those "promotions." Or makeup, costume, cameramen, the list goes on.
    • by Bishop923 (109840) on Friday October 20, 2006 @01:47AM (#16513073)
      I'm sure that everyone got paid for the time they put in, just like anyone else with a normal job. This boils down to residuals, or a share of the profits from distribution. Imagine that you are a programmer working on some application. You get paid for the time you put in, but 99% of the time, it doesn't matter wether the company sells 1 copy or 1 million, you don't see a cut of the profits. The entertainment industry is different, since most of the jobs are short term contract work, the actors/writers/directors etc get paid x amount specified in their contract and they rely on residuals to get them thru the times when they don't have work.

      In some ways it is hard to feel for either side, The networks are the typical bloated-big-company-screw-the-little-guy types and the creatives whine about not getting more money beyond what they were already paid.(I'd love to see the Photoshop team decide that they aren't going to deliver CS3 unless Adobe gives them a cut of each sale...)

      Ultimately this is going to come to a head and the creatives will figure out that they don't need the networks to distribute their content
      • by jacobw (975909)
        In some ways it is hard to feel for either side, The networks are the typical bloated-big-company-screw-the-little-guy types and the creatives whine about not getting more money beyond what they were already paid.(I'd love to see the Photoshop team decide that they aren't going to deliver CS3 unless Adobe gives them a cut of each sale...)

        Actually, a better analogy might be if Adobe had lured the programmers to their jobs with the promise that they WOULD get a cut of each sale. And then Adobe asked them
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by $1uck (710826)
          Now imagine that computer programming was a highly unstable profession, where any project you worked on could get canceled at any moment, and in any case, once you hit your 40's, you would cease to be hot and hip and might never work again--which means you'll be living off your software "residuals" for many years to come.

          Why would one have to imagine? Isn't this the case? I suppose maybe at 40 you don't cease to be hip in the programming world, but if you don't keep up with whatever tech its the same a
          • by jacobw (975909)
            Why would one have to imagine? Isn't this the case? I suppose maybe at 40 you don't cease to be hip in the programming world, but if you don't keep up with whatever tech its the same and could happen when you're 25 or 35 or 55 and we don't get residuals.

            The key phrase is "if you don't keep up with whatever tech." In any profession (or, at least, any knowledge-based profession), you'll become obsolete if you don't keep up with developments in the field. In TV writing, however, you will become obsolete no
          • by kalidasa (577403)
            Royalties on a patent are in a vague way analogous to residuals. So are stock options: something that is giving to an employee as part of his compensation that will continue to earn additional money for him in the future, perhaps long after he has left the employer.
  • luckily FTA the dispute appears to be limited to "webisodes" the producers are refusing to make any more of the webisodes until the compensation issue is resolved. it does not appear to impact that actual episodes of the TV series however.
  • Preemptive strike (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Since the web is likely to be the future of television this is more of setting a standard for compensation for web based content. If they get cut out now they may be in the future if and when broadcast and potentially cable goes away. The viewers might not notice a big difference but if content switches to technically a web based broadcast the creative people may get cut out. It's happened a lot in the past. One of the classic examples were old movie stars. Shirley Temples mother was known as one of the tou
  • by Dachannien (617929) on Friday October 20, 2006 @02:05AM (#16513171)
    It's amazing how much ineptitude seems to be rising to the top at Sci-Fi and NBC Universal.

    Bonnie Hammer cancels Farscape, a show with a dedicated fan base, because she thinks that the serialized plotline is too hard for the fans to follow. She makes this decision just as the Internet is starting to become a good way for fans who miss an episode to keep up with the series (iTMS started months later, and it should have been obvious to anyone that television and movies would eventually make their way to iTunes). She replaces it with the single-season flop Tremors: The Series, and is rewarded for her poor judgment by being promoted to President of USA Network and Sci-Fi Channel.

    Mark Stern shoots the company in the foot by cancelling Stargate SG-1 (another show with a dedicated fan base) despite strong backing from its production company, MGM. To add insult to injury, Stern refuses to let MGM court other TV networks for a new home for SG-1. This is combined with the decision to separate the SG-1 franchise from its follower, Battlestar Galactica. Shortly thereafter, the nature of the synergy between Stargate and BSG is revealed, as BSG's season premiere ratings were substantially lower [savestargatesg1.com] than last season's premiere. MGM plans to release new SG-1 content direct to DVD, and they may end up producing a full Season 11 for iTunes and DVD. NBC Universal won't see a dime from those projects.

    Sci-Fi Channel is also diluting their brand by airing professional wrestling, despite it already being carried on USA, in an apparent effort to mimic Spike TV, which at least runs five hours of Star Trek every weekday.

    Now, Marc Graboff gets on the BSG production team's bad side by screwing them out of residuals, and tries to justify it by blaming it all on the BSG production team.

    And finally, NBC decides to yank dramas and comedies from the 8pm time slot because they're "too expensive" compared to reality shows. Never mind that NBC rode the top of the rating charts for years on the backs of shows like Seinfeld and Friends (and, later in the evening, ER and Law & Order). It's almost as if NBC decided that being in last place with crappy-but-cheap shows was better than being top dog, and if they put Deal or No Deal on five nights a week, last place is where they'll end up.

    Today there was also a big story about how NBC Universal is laying off about 5% of their workforce. [reuters.com] I wonder if they're taking suggestions for whom to axe.

    • by Danse (1026)

      And finally, NBC decides to yank dramas and comedies from the 8pm time slot because they're "too expensive" compared to reality shows. Never mind that NBC rode the top of the rating charts for years on the backs of shows like Seinfeld and Friends (and, later in the evening, ER and Law & Order).

      See, the great thing about reality shows from the perspective of NBC is not just that they're cheap. It's that they're cheap and they stay that way. The "actors" aren't going to demand more money next season i

    • by Nitewing98 (308560) on Friday October 20, 2006 @03:47AM (#16513629) Homepage
      The sort of clumsy handling of sci-fi programs you're talking about is, unfortunately, endemic in the TV industry. Good shows get cancelled (the original Star Trek and The Vistor come to mind right away). Other shows get so little in the way of resources that they become ridiculous (Lost in Space and (I'm sorry) the original Galactica).

      Face it. TV doesn't "get" science fiction. These corporations are run by corporate suits with MBA's and degrees in marketing and have no soul and no imagination. These shows are nothing but product to them. Nevermind that Star Trek did more for encouraging research in a bunch of fields of science. It's no accident that the generation raised on Trek created PC's, PDA's, cell phones, and other technology. I'm reading now about the (real) experiments in bending microwaves (a cloaking device), matter teleportation, and energy weapons.

      Clearly, to those of us in the tech industry and the sciences, these shows are NOT silly, mindless, childish or merely a "product." They are the source of many inspirations. We care about these shows.

      TV doesn't. And the probably never will.

      Perhaps a consortium of web geeks should approach Moore et al and offer them the services of a dedicated streaming server and a loyal fanbase. Maybe we can help good content make the jump FROM TV to the 'net.

      What are the Google guys doing? They've got the money...and advertisers...this could actually work!
      • by kalidasa (577403)
        If CBS had any brains, they'd offer Moore complete creative control over the Star Trek franchise to leave BSG when his contract with NBC is up. DS9 is the only Star Trek series that really holds up well after all these years, and Moore was an assistant producer on that (and the writer of some of its greatest episodes); and there he was constrained by the Berman junta.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by glenmark (446320)
        You make many valid points, but the original BSG did not suffer due to lack of resources. At the time it was made, it was the most expensive TV series ever made, costing ~$1M per episode. It went downhill after the first handfull of episodes due to poor writing.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by deblau (68023)

        TV doesn't "get" science fiction. These corporations are run by corporate suits with MBA's and degrees in marketing and have no soul and no imagination.

        Eleanor Roosevelt once said "Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people."

        Sci-fi discusses ideas. The evening news discusses events. Reality shows discuss people.

        Perhaps the TV execs just understand reality shows better than sci-fi. Chalk up another one to the soulless minions of (television) orthodoxy.

    • Corporates like NBC are not very intelligent. Unless their sole bread winner happens to be the BSG or SG-1, they really will muck around based on a few ego-driven executives driving Mercs and Jaguars and who have nothing to lose if NBC lost a few million.

      Unless these executives (who are MBAs and not actual actors/producers themselves) pay is directly based on the popularity of a TV show, these stupid executives will continue to muck around and run the company and its property into ground.

      BSG will be cance

  • by Telvin_3d (855514) on Friday October 20, 2006 @02:32AM (#16513303)
    I am seeing a lot of comments here with the commenter's saying things along the lines of "The webisodes are free anyway, so what is the issue with residuals? Who cares?" This is an amazingly short sided view.

    Yes, the webisodes and similar media may be shown free at the moment, but that is a temporary thing at best. Say a year from now the show gets exported to another country and instead of showing the webisodes for free there, they decide to sell them through whatever the local equivalent of the iTunes store is at 50 cents a pop. I know all sorts of people that would happily pay for 2-5 minute chunks of extra content for their favourite series during the off season.

    Or, (and this is very likely), the season 3 DVD releases of Battlestar Galactica include the webisodes as 'bonus content' the same way that movie DVDs include the trailers. And the studios will say 'hell, no one gets paid extra for including the trailers with the DVD, they're promotional material, so why should the actors/writers get paid extra for it?' At the same time, you can get that it will be advertised as the DVD set including the 'bonus episode worth of content' that it really is. The writers get paid for the episodes on that DVD, so why don't they deserve to get paid for the webisodes?

    any one with minimal imagination can come up with other ways that content like this can be used or changed in ways that we are not seeing yet but that cross lines. If it doesn't happen with the Battlestar Galactica content,it will happen tot he next popular series that is inventive enough to reach out to the fans in new ways with new content. In a lot of ways, we are lucky that it is happening with an example that is clear cut in many ways in favour of the creative team and with people who are willing to fight. Otherwise, these types of rights and incentives might disappeared before anyone recognised they existed, and that would be the end of this type of content.
    • by bigpat (158134)
      Wouldn't it be that once they cross the line and start actually making money directly from the content, as reruns do with commercials, then that is when you would start getting residuals? Or if they were sold as downloadable episodes or packaged as DVDs. Sure the studios could engage in funny business and say they aren't making money off of them, but that seems easier to show by following the money. Well, whatever the contract says... if they would otherwise get residuals if an entire episode were releas
  • Feh. (Score:4, Funny)

    by illuminatedwax (537131) <stdrange@[ ]mni. ... u ['alu' in gap]> on Friday October 20, 2006 @02:38AM (#16513335) Journal
    That's what they get for calling them "webisodes".
  • Some fucking space battles!

    So far this season it's all "Let's go start some shit up and blow up our own hovels - that'll show the Cylons!", or whatnot.

    (admittedly, I may not have paid particular attention to the specifics of TFA)
    • by rossifer (581396) on Friday October 20, 2006 @05:15AM (#16513975) Journal
      You probably pissed and moaned about the desert scenes in Star Wars too. :)

      It's a story about people in the future. People have lots of desires, including the desire to not live in cans. So they give living on a mudball a shot. And it turns out to be a "Bad Plan(tm)". So now we have to get them off the mudball and back into some sort of fighting shape again. With the lessons learned, we can assume that they won't be satisfied until they reach earth (as a friday night special six months after the regular show gets cancelled).

      Personally, I'm curious as to how they'll do it. I'm really enjoying the break in the action, as it were.

      Regards,
      Ross

      • by cyclocommuter (762131) on Friday October 20, 2006 @08:25AM (#16514799)
        Personally, I am enjoying the humans play the role of rebels/insurgents versus the militarily superior cylons... strapping bombs on their chest on suicide missions, but at the same time those captured have sacks put on their heads just like prisoners in Iraq / Guantanamo. Watching the conflicts within number 6 and number 8 (Sharon) who have been "exposed" to humans is also heady stuff. With plot twists like these, who cares about blowing up stuff in space?
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Fallingcow (213461)
          Don't forget that the Cylon occupational government is called the CPA. The US occupational government in Iraq was called the CPA, as well (Coalition Provisional Authority).

          The parallels are not suble, but they are quite appropriate.
      • by Wylfing (144940)

        First they have to get past the Eastern Alliance with the help of some friendly androids!

      • I can't wait for Galactica 2012 where they're back on earth and the only original characters are Adama and Tigh. Waiting in space for some reason.
  • The WGA recognizes that web delivery is the future of the content creation industry. No one is sure yet how increasing broadband access and a generation of entertainment consumers weaned on BitTorrent is going to affect the commercial arts, but you can bet that web delivery, either for-pay, sponsored, or free, is going to be a huge part of the new business model. WGA screwed up once a already by failing to forsee how the home video/DVD market was going to become the major revenue source for movie studios. (

  • by ip_freely_2000 (577249) on Friday October 20, 2006 @08:03AM (#16514647)
    Talk about disrespect to the rest of the world.
  • I'd say that there's another WGA strike brewing. The question is what will the fallout of the strike be? Most likely, for the duration of the strike, the Big Four will switch primarily to reality shows (including in the place of dramas that will be off the air). If this is the case, will the Big Four decide to make the switch perminant because it really drops their bottom line; or will there finally be sweet, sweet, sweet oversaturation and this damnedable Reality TV show fad dissapear to, say, 4-5 shows to
    • by AceCaseOR (594637)

      Um.. that shouldn't have been "disappear to", it should have been "cut back to".

      *pulls out mini-tape recorder*
      Note to self: Next time, use preview button.
      *puts tape recorder away*

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