BBC iPlayer writers get £1-million payout

Screenwriters whose work has been aired on BBC iPlayer have received royalties of nearly £1 million, according to figures just released by Writers Digital Payments (WDP).

The not-for-profit company, set up to make sure that TV writers get properly paid when their work is shown online, is owned by WGGB and the Personal Managers’ Association (the trade body for agents representing writers, actors and directors).

WDP’s most recent payout to BBC writers (December 2015) was over £960,000 and followed a first tranche in April last year of around £200,000.

A third payment is due shortly – to ITV writers – in the region of £200,000.

Writers don’t have to be members of WGGB to qualify for the scheme, and they don’t need to register. Many will find out about payments via their agents, although to some it comes as an unexpected bonus.

Emma Reeves, Acting Chair of WGGB’s TV Committee and writer on children’s TV shows such as Eve, The Dumping Ground and Hetty Feather, was one recent recipient. “It was a delightful surprise when I received my WDP cash; solid evidence of what WGGB does for writers, and in the best form – money.”

The amount going into individual writers’ bank accounts varies and has been calculated according to the number of people who have watched their shows online. WGGB and the Personal Managers’ Association negotiate a lump sum in advance with the broadcasters, and then WDP analyses the viewing data to make sure it is fairly distributed to writers – a process managed by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society.

Data is analysed using a formula of approximately £1 per 1,000 hits (with shows of less than 15 minutes counting as half a hit). According to WDP Manager Lynne Mendoza, the figures offer an insight into how catch-up TV is transforming our viewing habits:

“Since the launch of the scheme – the first payments to BBC writers in April last year covered the period 2012/13 – so many more people are watching iPlayer. For a show like EastEnders, where hits for a single episode can total over 1.5 million for the duration it is available online, the rewards can be very respectable. And a writer on a successful comedy series might get several thousand pounds, although of course many payments are much, much smaller.”

Over 500 individual writers received cheques in the recent payout and future negotiations with BBC and ITV will reflect the upward trend in viewers watching TV online and on multiple platforms. Channel 4 already has its own scheme for distributing online royalty payments.

WGGB General Secretary Bernie Corbett is keen to point out WDP’s vital role in protecting writers who are vulnerable to exploitation in a rapidly changing digital landscape:

“Writers Digital Payments’ focus is the area not covered by traditional broadcasting,” he explained. “There is a huge risk that writers will simply not be paid for online use of their work. This is happening in other countries and WDP is determined it will not happen in the UK.”