New rights for TV writers


Screenwriters commissioned by the BBC will receive a boost to their rights, thanks to a new agreement negotiated by WGGB.

The BBC television and online drama and comedy script agreement, negotiated by WGGB and the Personal Managers’ Association, replaces two previous agreements: the BBC general script agreement and the BBC television script agreement.

It brings together existing rights for writers enshrined in the previous two agreements, introduces significant new rights, and closes some longstanding loopholes and anomalies.

The new agreement covers all TV shows commissioned by BBC and BBC Studios. Key features include:

• For the first time the agreement will include animation writers who write scripts of less than 15 minutes. These writers will now be eligible for the WGGB pension scheme and will be paid WGGB minimum rates.

• The practice of paying children’s television writers a subsequent use advance (SUA) of 100% of their initial fee to cover repeats, overseas and other sales of their work has now been formally enshrined in the agreement. The old agreements stipulated that writers would receive the SUA to cover the reuse of their CBeebies and CBBC scripts on BBC One and BBC Two, but when these channels stopped broadcasting children’s television in 2012 this put children’s writers in a vulnerable position and they faced the prospect of potentially losing 50% of their payment. While the BBC has continued the arrangement on an informal basis it has remained a precarious right. This new agreement removes the vulnerability of this group of writers and also means WGGB can now effectively police the SUA.

• Writers of long scripts (15 minutes or more) for BBC Three Online will receive at least 165% of the minimum fee to cover online availability of their work within a five-year period, plus reuse on BBC One or BBC Two in late-night schedules. These rights were negotiated by WGGB prior to BBC Three moving to online only in 2015. These are formally enshrined for the first time in the new agreement.

• BBC Studios, due to become a wholly owned commercial subsidiary of the corporation in April this year, outside its public service remit and not funded by the Licence Fee, is now included in the agreement. WGGB will also be able to raise issues of concern directly with BBC Studios, which becomes part of its formal negotiating forum.

WGGB Acting General Secretary Ellie Peers said: “In the five years since WGGB negotiated the general and television script agreements with the BBC, there have been seismic changes in the broadcasting landscape and at the corporation itself, which has faced, among other challenges, the switch to digital, charter renewal and unprecedented financial cuts.

“WGGB has been with its members every step of the way, ensuring their rights are protected. This new agreement not only enshrines the rights we have negotiated, but introduces new ones – particularly for animation writers and children’s writers who are traditionally underpaid and offered less protection.

“With one eye always to the future, this agreement is also well-placed to deal with digital changes in future, and other changes at the BBC.”

WGGB Television Chair Emma Reeves said: “The Writers’ Guild has been working for several years to protect the subsequent use advance paid to children’s writers. I’m absolutely delighted to see this vital income guaranteed in the future for some of the lowest paid writers in television.”

Writers commissioned by the BBC should refer to current rates in the WGGB rate card rather than the new agreement – as these rates are updated regularly.

The current BBC sketch agreement remains in place.