Wednesday, October 18

Webisodes: A Battle Against the Empire

Source: Newsweek Periscope

Listen up, "Battlestar Galactica" fans. A war is brewing, fiercer than anything involving Cylon robots. The battlefield: the Internet, where fans can get their "Battlestar" fix with three-minute mini-episodes created especially for the Sci Fi Channel's Web site, NBC Universal, the studio behind "Battlestar," refused to pay residuals or credit the writers of these "Webisodes," claiming they're promotional materials. So "Battlestar" executive producer Ron Moore said he wouldn't deliver any more of them, including the 10 that were already in the can. In response, NBC Universal seized the Webisodes and filed charges of unfair labor practices against the Writers Guild of America, which advised Moore and producers of three other NBC Universal shows not to deliver any new Web content until they had a deal over residuals. "The guild unlawfully pressured producers not to perform," says Marc Graboff, West Coast president of NBC Universal TV.

The "Battlestar" skirmish is only the beginning as the Writers Guild heads into negotiations for a new contract with the studios next year. The talks are taking place just as shows are being delivered and promoted on the Internet and through iPods and cell phones —none of which is covered in depth by the current guild agreement. "It doesn't matter which technology wins out, the companies are going to make money, and we can't get shut out," says David Young, the new executive director of the WGA, West. The stakes are huge: viewers streamed "Battlestar" Webisodes 5.5 million times last month, doubling traffic to within two days of the premiere. By comparison, 2.2 million people showed up for the show's third-season opener on Oct. 6. Talk of a Hollywood strike is growing louder. Some 900 writers, including "Desperate Housewives" creator Marc Cherry, attended a "unity" rally Sept. 20. Says "Galactica's" Moore: "We're all heading toward a collision over digital content. Somebody's going to blink, but I don't think it's going to be the writers."

—Jenny Hontz

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