LOS ANGELES – In a show of unity, five unions representing actors, writers and directors issued a joint call for talks to make sure their members get a cut of revenue generated by the sale of TV shows on Apple's iTunes software.
The unions sent a clear message to TV producers.
"We have not yet heard from the responsible employers of our members," their joint statement said. "But we look forward to a dialogue that ensures that our members are properly compensated for this exploitation of their work."
The presidents of unions representing Hollywood writers and actors were lunching at a popular Beverly Hills restaurant on Wednesday when they saw a TV report about a deal to allow episodes of ABC shows such as "Lost" to be downloaded for portable viewing on the new video iPod (search) from Apple Computer Inc. (search)
In doing the deal with Apple, ABC became the first network to allow viewers to download episodes of their shows the day after they air on TV. Other networks are expected to follow shortly.
The development was news to Patric Verrone, president of the Writers Guild of America, West (search), and John Connolly, president of the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists (search).
The two called their counterparts at the Screen Actors Guild (search), Directors Guild of America (search) and the Writers Guild of America, East (search), which covers writers east of the Mississippi.
The show of unity was unusual, coming from unions that are sometimes at odds over issues such as royalties from DVD sales.
"We developed a new piece of stationary that never existed before," Verrone said of the joint statement.
The unions have not yet called ABC or its parent, The Walt Disney Co. (search), to discuss how much of the $1.99 that Apple is charging for a single episode should go to writers, actors and directors.
"The guilds are our business partners, and we always welcome a dialogue with them on any business-related issue that affects their members," ABC said in a statement.
The groups already have agreements that cover the re-use of their work on the Internet or in "pay per view" models, such as video on demand. The unions also have newer agreements covering work produced for the Internet.
Under the WGA contract, writers are entitled to 1.6 percent of the license fee paid by networks to the producers of a show. The ABC hits "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives," are produced by Touchstone Studios (search), Disney's TV production arm.
Actors are entitled to 3.6 percent of the license fee.
A conflict could arise if studios decide to treat the Internet downloads the same as a DVD sale, which might result in lower payments.
"We have to learn more about the actual technology," Verrone said. "I'm thrilled by the notion I can watch my shows in the palm of my hand, but I also want to make sure we are paid appropriately."