WGA West Member Earnings Dipped To $1.55 Billion Last Year; Lowest Total Since 2017

WGA West members got fewer jobs and less pay last year than they did in 2020, according to the guild’s 2022 Annual Report, which found that 5,951 writers reported employment in all work areas in 2021 – a 6.1% decline – while total writer earnings reported for dues purposes declined 7.7% to $1.55 billion. That’s the fewest jobs since 2016, and the lowest earnings since 2017.

“The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic continued into 2021, with writers’ reported earnings and employment reflecting disruption to the entertainment industry,” the report says. “In all fields, writers reported declines in both employment and earnings.”

The report’s employment data for the fiscal year ended March 31, 2022 found that screenwriter earnings declined 13.3% in 2021 to $408.8 million, although the report notes that this figure is likely to increase with late reporting. Screenwriter employment declined by 6.8% to 1,994 writers reporting screen earnings.

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Earnings by television and digital platform writers reported to the guild for 2021 declined 5.5% to $1.13 billion. Total employment in this area was down 5.1% from 2020, with 4,934 writers reporting income from television and digital platforms, though the guild said that this figure is also likely to increase with late reporting.

Reported earnings among 134 writers employed in news, promotion, informational and interactive programming declined of 21.6%, with earnings of $11 million down 5.2% from 2020.

Residuals, however, are still booming, hitting an all-time record take of $493.6 million last year – up 5.4% from 2020’s an all-time high of $493.6 million. Total television residuals were up 4.7%, while screen residuals rose 6.9%. New media, the largest residual category overall, accounted for almost half of the total residuals collected at 45.2%. – up from 36.7% the year before.

Here is the guild’s summary of residuals income for 2021:
• Television residuals grew to $323.43 million in receipts, representing 65.5% of the total residuals collected.
• New media residuals as a whole for television programs are up 31.7% over last year, increasing from $102.95 to $135.63 million.
• Although it dropped 5.5% from last year, foreign television residuals remain the second largest category for television after new media at $42.95 million.
• High Budget SVOD residuals, now being tracked separately from all other new media, is now the third largest category of residuals at $26.8 million. The 5,855.6% increase between 2016 and 2021 is so large due to the very low amount reported in the base year of 2016 as these residuals began to be paid. Note the strong growth in this area in 2019, 2020, and 2021. Further growth can be expected as the improvement in these payments achieved in the 2020 MBA start to be paid on an increasing number of projects.
• Non-made-for-basic cable residuals are the next highest category at $25.77 and is an increase of 5.6% over last year. This category, however, has dropped 7.8% in the past five years.
• Domestic syndication continued its decline with a 23.5% decrease from last year to $22.4 million in residuals. Network prime time residuals dropped 18.5% from last year to $20.23 million.
• Total feature film residuals had an increase over last year to $170.17 million. New media residuals continue to be the highest earning residuals category for the third year running at $87.53 million for feature films, an increase of 27.1% over last year.
• Worldwide TV residuals are the second largest dollar category for film, but had a 2.5% drop from last year to $37.22 million.
• Pay TV receipts, although the guild’s third largest dollar category at $33.58 million, saw a 15.6% drop from 2020.
• Home video receipts for film continue to decline, with a 35.6% decrease from 2020 to $6.17 million, and a five-year decrease of 71.1%.

An accompanying financial report by the guild’s Membership and Finance Committee noted that the guild distributed $15.1 million to writers and heirs during the last fiscal year in the form of foreign levies, which are paid by 21 countries in Europe and South America. Since the program began 30 years ago, the guild has disbursed $290.6 million.

“This year’s financial report comes as the Guild and the industry begin to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic,” the committee members wrote. “While the pandemic is not over, and its full effect will take years to assess, there are signs of a return to normal. The Guild Theater reopened in March. In May, Guild staff returned to in-person work on a hybrid schedule. And while managing a union during the pandemic certainly posed challenges, the Guild’s overall financial condition remains strong as we head into the 2023 MBA negotiations.”

The Guild ended the fiscal year with total net assets of over $92.2 million and had an operating surplus of $4.5 million on total revenues of $38.9 million, down from $46.1 million in the last fiscal year. “The decline in total revenue is attributable to weak equity markets that resulted in an unrealized investment loss of $0.2 million, compared to last year’s gain of $8.8 million,” the report says. “Member dues revenue (which includes dues on earnings and residuals as well as initiation fees) of $33.4 million was higher than FY 2021’s total of $31.4 million.”

Annual expenditures of $34.4 million were lower than FY 2021’s total of $36.2 million. “The decrease in total expenditures was the result of a number of factors: the successful end of the agency campaign, reduced expenses for in-person events limited by Covid restrictions, and a higher than usual number of vacancies in budgeted staff positions,” the report says.

The WGA West, which is the only Hollywood union to disclose detailed earnings and employment data, said in the report that “We publish this financial information each year in the interest of transparency and a fully informed membership.”

The Membership and Finance Committee is chaired by Betsy Thomas and its members are Patti Carr, Tony DeSena, Carleton Eastlake, and Peter Murietta.

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