Musicians Ratify Agreement With Broadway TV Network

Volume C, No. 3March, 2000

Bill Dennison

After several years of on-again, off-again discussions with the Broadway Television Network (BTN), New York theatre musicians have reluctantly approved an agreement for the pay-per-view television presentation of Broadway shows. In voting on Jan. 26 and 27, a tentative pact with BTN was approved 59-27.

In its first year, the agreement calls for a base scale payment to orchestra members totaling $3,816.95 for the videotaping of a Broadway show, inclusive of 16 hours of rehearsal. With that payment BTN has the rights to one PPV broadcast worldwide, a radio simulcast, seven plays on basic or pay television, and a PBS broadcast. In the second year, payment to musicians for these rights rises to $4,476.95, the third year payment is $5,176.95, and in the fourth year the payment will b $5,256.95.

The reluctance of theatre musicians to enter into an agreement with BTN reflects a widespread fear that a PPV broadcast of a Broadway show would hurt its run. While BTN argued the opposite position – that the nationwide publicity associated with such a PPV broadcast would help a show’s run – the fact is that no one really knows. And theatre musicians rightly felt that they had much to lose in such an experiment. In the end, however, all of the other Broadway unions reached agreement for a PPV production and, under the gun of arbitration, Local 802 had no choice but to enter into negotiations and reach agreement.

Other details of the settlement include premiums for conductor and playing contractor at 100 percent, for associate conductor at 30 percent, for first double and synthesizer at 25 percent, for second and subsequent doubles at 10 percent, concert master show-premium honored up to 25 percent and onstage/on camera premium of 5 percent. Pension will be paid at 10 percent and music preparation at 100 percent of Broadway scale, unless any television first use has already been paid. The settlement also calls for a royalty payment that is a pro-rata share of 1.5 percent of gross PPV revenue received by BTN above a 1.75 percent buy rate.

The history of talks with BTN dates back to 1996, when Local 802 and its Theatre Committee were first approached by representatives of the fledgling enterprise to discuss a multiyear agreement for PPV presentations of Broadway productions. The Theatre Committee was unwilling to discuss a multiyear agreement but was willing to talk about PPV on a show-by-show basis. BTN insisted that it needed the ongoing agreement to make their business venture viable. The Theatre Committee, however, repeatedly rejected their proposals.

In the ensuing years BTN managed to reach multiyear agreements with the other unions representing Broadway employees and, last May, they approached Local 802 once again. This time, however, there was an important new development. BTN had managed to get a Broadway producer to assign them the rights to do a PPV broadcast of a particular show and, with those rights, Local 802 became obligated to negotiate. Additionally, if the parties failed to reach agreement through negotiations, BTN had the right to take the issue to arbitration.

At that point the Theatre Committee selected a negotiating committee and began serious talks with BTN and their attorney. Those talks proved unusually difficult, with the sides remaining far apart. BTN’s position was that the scales outlined in the AFM’s Non-Standard Television (Pay-TV) Agreement should apply. The Local 802 negotiating committee took the position that, if AFM scales were to be applied, it wanted a complete buyout of all possible usages of the videotape.

Last October talks reached an impasse, and BTN made what they described as “one last effort” to reach a settlement before filing for arbitration. They offered a first-year payment of $3,200, rising to approximately $4,000 in the final year of a five-year agreement. That was rejected and BTN filed for arbitration.

Local 802 was able to delay the arbitration for several months but in the end could not stop the issue from moving toward final resolution in that venue. In a last effort to avoid arbitration, BTN and the Local 802 negotiating committee met once again and produced a tentative settlement on Nov. 5, 1999. That proposed agreement raised the wage payment to the $3,816.95 in the first year, rising to $5,256.95 in the fourth year.

This proposed settlement was rejected by both the Theatre Committee and the Music Directors’ Committee. The dispute then headed back to arbitration, with a hearing set for Jan. 19.

On that date Labor Arbitrator Bonnie Weinstock convened the hearing and listened to opening remarks from both sides. She then took the somewhat unusual step of urging the parties to resume negotiations and attempt to resolve their differences.

After some discussion the negotiating committee, which was present at the arbitration, agreed unanimously to do just that. The final round of negotiations – that at one point included Ms. Weinstock acting as a mediator – produced a tentative agreement. The negotiating committee unanimously recommended it to the full Theatre Committee, which in turn recommended its ratification to Broadway musicians.