LOS ANGELES – Hollywood writers were back at the bargaining table Sunday in a last-minute push to avoid a strike against TV networks and movie studios over writers' share of profits from DVDs and the Internet.
The battle has broad implications for the way Hollywood does business, since whatever deal is struck by the Writers Guild of America will likely be used as a template for talks with actors and directors, whose contracts expire next June.
"We'll get what they get," Screen Actors Guild President Alan Rosenberg told The Associated Press.
Negotiators were meeting with a federal mediator Sunday evening in hopes of avoiding a strike that writers had set to begin 12:01 a.m. Monday.
The guild announced sweeping plans to picket every major studio in Los Angeles starting at 9 a.m. Monday, along with Rockefeller Center in New York, where NBC is headquartered.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers previously called a writers' strike "precipitous and irresponsible."
Producers believe progress can be made on other issues but "it makes absolutely no sense to increase the burden of this additional compensation," said J. Nicholas Counter, the producer's chief negotiator.
The guilds have been preparing for these negotiations for years, hiring staff with extensive labor union experience, and developing joint strategies and a harder line than producers have seen in decades.
"We haven't shown particular resolve in past negotiations," said John Bowman, the WGA's chief negotiator. "The sea change is that this is an enormously galvanizing issue, and two, that the new regime at the guild actually has a plan, has an organization and a structure to respond to something."
The writers are the first union to bargain for a new deal this year. Their contract expired Wednesday.
In past years, actors have almost always gone first, although the Directors Guild of America, which is seen as the least aggressive of the three guilds, has sometimes taken the lead. Whatever deal was struck first was usually accepted by the others.
The guilds are aware that if writers fail to win concessions involving DVDs and the Internet, actors may have to take up the fight.
"This is an issue that touches every member of this guild and every member of the Screen Actors Guild as well," said Carlton Cuse, executive producer of the ABC drama "Lost."
Consumers are expected to spend $16.4 billion on DVDs this year, according to Adams Media Research. By contrast, studios could generate only $158 million from selling movies online and about $194 million from selling TV shows over the Web, although those numbers are expected to skyrocket in coming years.
Studios argue that it is too early to know how much money they can make from offering entertainment on the Internet, cell phones, iPods and other devices.
Hollywood unions have long regretted a decision made in 1984 to accept a small percentage of home video sales because studios said the technology was untested and that costs were high. Writers only get about 3 cents on a typical DVD retailing for $20.
The guilds have tried and failed for two decades to increase video payments, even as DVDs have become more profitable for studios than box office receipts.
Unions say they won't make the same mistake when it comes to the Internet.
"I think we all understand what a crucial time in history this is," Rosenberg said. "We really feel if we can't get a fair formula in new media, we'll dig ourselves into the same type of hole we've been in with DVDs."
The first casualty of the strike would be late-night talk shows, which are dependent on current events to fuel monologues and other entertainment. Daytime TV, including live talk shows such as "The View" and soap operas, which typically tape about a week's worth of shows in advance, would be next to feel the impact.
The strike would not immediately impact production of movies or prime-time TV programs. Most studios have stockpiled dozens of movie scripts, and TV shows have enough scripts or completed shows in hand to last until early next year.
The actors' union has urged its members to join the writers' picket lines during their off hours.
If a writers strike lingers and actors show support, producers could try and undermine the writers' position by seeking a more favorable deal with directors.
Writers and directors have clashed in the past, mostly over writers' feelings that directors take too much credit for a movie and neglect the contribution of writers.
In 2004, the directors' union settled its contract first and backed down from demands for a higher share of profit from the lucrative DVD marketplace. Writers and actors then had little choice but to accept a similar deal.
"This is a bare knuckle fight and a chess game," said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment lawyer at the Los Angeles law firm of TroyGould.
"If producers do reach a deal with the DGA, it would be to cut the legs right out from under the strike. Then the focus shifts to SAG."
The DGA said it has not yet scheduled contract talks but was closely monitoring developments.