New WGA Contract Offers Up Official Definition for ‘Hit’ Streaming Series

Buried among the deal points in the Writers Guild of America’s new MBA (Minimum Basic Agreement), 148 hard-fought-for days in the making, might be the closest will will ever get to an official definition of “hit streaming series.”

For years, it has been difficult to get a grasp on the “ratings” for streaming series — in part because the streamers have been cagey about trotting out cold, hard and meaningful numbers. Netflix, for one, at first touted viewership as a measure of member accounts that watched “at least two minutes” of a TV series or movie, and we all tittered. Come October 2021, viewership for Netflix originals was reported as a total of hours watched by all member accounts. Then, earlier this year, the streaming giant decided it would “share the views for a good number of our titles” as defined by the number of hours viewed divided by the total run time.

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Disney+ uses an identical formula (“total stream time divided by runtime”) to report on its own viewership superlatives.

But the new WGA contract — seeking as it in part did to secure better residuals for these mysteriously measured streaming series — has spelled out the exact metric that earns a writer a “viewership-based streaming bonus” for a popular series.

The writer(s) for series as films “that are viewed by 20% or more of the service’s domestic subscribers in the first 90 days of release, or in the first 90 days in any subsequent exhibition year, get a bonus equal to 50% of the fixed domestic and foreign residual,” the summarized contract reads, “with views calculated as hours streamed domestically of the season or film divided by runtime” (the same formula used by Netflix and Disney+, to name two).

Over on Netflix, 15.2 million views within 90 days would trigger the bonus, and Sex Education, for example, had 12 million views for the week of Sept. 18 alone (though that is for the entire four-season library, not just Season 4 viewing).

A Disney+ title would need to generate more than 9.2 million views within 90 days to trigger the residual bonus. For some perspective — though it was not a Disney+ original — the Disney/Pixar feature Elemental earlier this month racked up 26.4 million views during just its first five days of release.

Now, what does a “viewership-based streaming bonus” actually add up to for a scribe?

The summarized MBA says that projects written “on the largest streaming services” (and released on or after Jan. 1, 2024) would receive a bonus of $9,031 for a half-hour episode, $16,415 for a one-hour episode, or $40,500 for a streaming feature over $30 million in budget.

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