Last year was perhaps Netflix’s most successful yet when it comes to its original films, with Roma netting Oscar wins and movies like Bird Box and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before proving extremely popular. Now the streaming service’s original films are the subjects of a new dispute with the Writer’s Guild of America over how much its writers are paid.
According to Deadline, the WGA has filed an arbitration claim against Netflix over the residuals it says are owed to the union’s writers of 33 of the streaming service’s original movies. These were Netflix original films that were released in theaters to qualify for awards contention at the same time or close to it that they debuted on the streaming service itself.
The WGA’s dispute with Netflix is over the manner in which Netflix applies residuals formulas to its original films. The residuals for the original films owed to the writers are calculated based on licensing fees. Netflix pays itself to license the films to stream on its platform and the crux of the issue is the way in which Netflix allocates these licensing fees.
Because these films are being released in theaters for awards consideration, they are being licensed for the streaming services and by the sound of it, the WGA thinks that Netflix is handling its licensing fees and calculating residuals in a fashion that is shortchanging the writers who are owed more money than they are being paid.
A whopping 51 Netflix original movies were made under WGA contracts last year alone and the growth of the simultaneous streaming and theatrical release model means that the result of this arbitration claim could impact other streaming services if the WGA wins here. With Amazon, Hulu and Apple also releasing original films in theaters in the quest for golden statues, they too could be targets of the WGA over this issue.
It is interesting how this dovetails with the recent tumult over whether or not Netflix movies and those of other streaming services should be eligible for Oscars after qualifying for contention with limited theatrical runs. Director Steven Spielberg is seemingly against it, thinking that streaming movies should compete for Emmys, not Oscars, because of his belief in the importance of the theatrical experience and a desire to preserve it.
These are just some of the issues that arise in an industry that has been shaken up by the explosion of streaming services. At one point streaming service movies were just for the small screen, but with some movies from Netflix and others now getting to shine on the big screen, the waters get ever muddier and there are no clear answers because these are all new issues.
These conversations and disputes will only become louder and more important because of the increasing share of the industry streaming services command. Netflix alone plans to produce some 90 original movies this year.