The Rot Inside the Streaming Economy

Michael Schulman, the New Yorker:

“Orange [is the New Black]” was distributed by Netflix but produced by Lionsgate, which determined the cast’s up-front payments. Myles was paid scale, SAG’s minimum rate, which was under nine hundred dollars per day. “They could and would pay us the absolute bare minimum, and there was really no wiggle room,” she recalled. Her contract was appended with SAG’s 2012 New Media Agreement, which covered projects “produced for initial exhibition via the Internet, mobile devices, or any other platform known or which hereafter may be adopted” (now known as half of TV). SAG had originally codified the agreement in 2009, after a yearlong standoff with the studios. At the time, streaming TV was mostly theoretical, except for the under-five-minute “Webisodes” that “Lost” ran on The contractual terms were — and remain — much worse for actors than those of “linear” TV. (This is a major source of contention in the actors’ current standoff with the studios.) Traditional broadcast series pay residuals for each re-airing, calculated as a percentage of the actor’s salary. The 2012 New Media Agreement entitled Myles to residuals only after the first fifty-two weeks the show was on the platform; the amount was based not on how many times each episode was watched but on a percentage of the licensing fee that Netflix paid Lionsgate to distribute the show. (If this sounds confusing, don’t worry — the actors also find it baffling.) Myles still gets around six hundred dollars a year for a handful of guest spots on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” stretching back to 2004, but her residuals this year for “Orange” have come to around twenty bucks.

It is upsetting to see the parallels to the streaming music economy, where a four-piece band getting a couple million streams a month might struggle to pay rent. But at least musicians can look forward to tours and merchandise sales to supplement their income.