Writers Digital Payments receives large sums of money from the BBC and ITV (and potentially other broadcasters and online services) and our function is to make sure this money is fairly distributed to the writers of the shows that viewers watch online via iPlayer, ITV Player, etc.
We will endeavour to distribute every penny to writers, without any commissions or other deductions.
However there are a lot of complex issues to be decided before we can achieve our simple aim of a fair distribution.
The BBC is paying about £675,000 a year for catch-up viewing on the BBC iPlayer, for distribution to writers whose programmes qualify. ITV is paying about £55,000 a year (both of these figures are currently under renegotiation). In order to qualify the programme must be a scripted drama, comedy, or dramatic segment of another programme. It must have been commissioned by the BBC or ITV either in-house or from an independent producer. There are a lot of programmes that don’t qualify because their catch-up rights were bought out, but this issue will fade out over the next few years. Acquisitions of programmes originally commissioned by other broadcasters don’t count.
To avoid windfall payments to a few writers that would not be representative of future sums, WDP has adopted an equalisation process to attempt to provide consistent values. Thus in 2012 where only about 22% of programmes qualify for payment, we will only pay out 22% of the money we get from the BBC. The money retained will then be fed back into the system, probably over an 8 year period so as to achieve a reasonably regular value, meaning that writers should be able to see how many viewings there have been of their programmes and thus have some anticipation of the money they will receive. At the moment it looks like the value will be roughly £1 per 1000 hits on the server. This needs to be read in the context of programmes like Eastenders frequently achieving 1 million hits, and the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special topping 3 million hits.
The rules of the distribution are set out below, and were evolved to achieve an outcome we judged to be fair to everyone. They need to be read in the context of at least 750 million hits on catch-up services in the past 12 months.
- In general every hit is of equal value irrespective of the length of the programme.
- Programmes 15 minutes and below count as half a hit, because otherwise writers of very short scripts would get more than their fair share of the money.
- An omnibus of a number of full programmes strung together will result in each of the programmes being worth half a hit. Technically an omnibus is a single programme so would generate fractional payments to four or five writers, which could be unfair, but also we do not know how many people watched only one or two parts, so we feel this compromise creates an equitable solution.
- The format is valued at one tenth of the value of a script based on that format – additional to, not deducted from, the value of the script. Therefore if the format creator is also the scriptwriter, s/he will receive 110% of what a writer of script only would receive.
- All programmes with fewer than 10,000 hits will not be included as, being an infinitesimal percentage of the whole, the admin costs for the payments far exceed their value.
- If a writer is due less than £25 the money will not be paid out, but will be held in their account until future distributions bring him/her up to £25.
- All of the above needs to be highly flexible and reviewed on an annual basis to take account of developments in technology and public viewing habits.
The system can of course only be as good as the data provided by the BBC (and by the independent production companies to them) and, at least for our first distribution, operational difficulties mean that we lack sufficiently accurate information in one particular area. However, so as not to continue delaying payments to writers we propose to operate the following temporary arrangements:
- Formats - We will hold back the monies which might be payable to the owners of formats, and they will be paid when in due course we have accurate details from the BBC.
Please note: We intend to operate a similar structure for both BBC and ITV, but at the moment ITV statistics are not as comprehensive as those from the BBC, the amount of money available is small, and the ITV catch up service operates at less than 25% the volume of BBC iPlayer.