A multi-million dollar battle between Scarlett Johansson and “Disney” over broadcast rights


Hollywood’s biggest attraction this summer is the multimillion-dollar battle between two of the industry’s most famous players, Scarlett Johansson and Disney, with Johansson suing Disney last week over the day and date release of her superhero Marvel movie Black Widow, which premiered on Disney Plus at the same time. The day it hit theaters, potentially depriving it of a huge box office stipend, highlighting the countless ways broadcasting has forever changed the way we experience films and their effects on the creators and talent who make them. .

Film contracts have traditionally been negotiated around box office results, with significant bonuses tied to how well the film performs. This was good for both the talented and the studios. The studios saved a good chunk of money up front and didn’t risk spending big on the flop, while actors, producers, and others involved in the movie can look at box office results to see exactly how much their production is worth and get paid accordingly.

But with the shift to live streaming things had to change, and actors and producers who work with a streaming company like Netflix are usually paid a set fee, according to the industry lawyer negotiating high-profile talent contracts who asked not to be named so he could speak freely. On the subject, he said, “If they are fortunate enough to have significant influence, they can also secure an additional bonus which is a contractual dollar amount that is paid over months or quarters of a year. But it is not performance-based like box office bonuses. Netflix often pays this amount which It was pre-negotiated in eight quarterly installments after the title was released, the attorney said, while Apple tends to pay a little faster over 12 months.

Since the space is changing so rapidly, part of this attorney’s role in contract negotiations now is to “read the tea leaves and decide where the deals are going.”

The old way of negotiating talent earnings has changed rapidly. According to Johansson’s complaint, the terms of “Black Widow” release were initially finalized in 2017 — early enough for Disney Plus to not be announced, and Johansson’s team apparently didn’t think it was necessary to negotiate terms related to the broadcast. Her contract specified that Black Widow would debut with a “widespread theatrical release,” but it appears that the show will be an exclusive just an understanding.

While actors now know they need to negotiate broadcast terms, determining their value is more difficult than simply looking for box office receipts. The streaming services keep their performance data very close to the box, and are reluctant to share specific details about engagement and earnings on specific titles. The data that is shared is often ambiguous, obscured, or lacks context for how the success (or failure) of a title is measured by the broadcasters involved.

“I don’t see Netflix wanting to share how much their subscriber base has grown and what viewership is any time soon,” the attorney said. “But we’d like to see her.”

Another thing to keep in mind is that the success metrics for everyone whos live is, by and large, unclear. The box office numbers provide a clear picture of the film’s performance in relation to its budget and expected ticket sales. But with streaming, none of us really know what winning looks like—huge viewership numbers, new subscriptions, repeat views—except for the company telling us the movie was one.

“I think we have to understand this claim in the context of the redefining success metrics for any movie in the market today,” said Daniel Luria, Senior Vice President of Content Strategy and Managing Editor at Boxoffice Pro. “Unfortunately we are all aware of what this success means in the age of broadcasting – not just the era of COVID – but broadcasting as a whole.”

It’s potentially frustrating, Lauria added, for people in the entertainment industry who will benefit from titles that are streamed but don’t get enough transparency about the data and seem to be arbitrarily fabricated measures of success, which can vary by company and service. It might lead celebrity talent to think twice about signing up for these kinds of agreements, or at least the more demanding clauses that protect their earnings in the event that a movie release’s offer is changed by a neighboring studio to broadcast.

“If the industry wants to redefine the success metrics for a movie, it has to be on the same page about what that definition is,” Lauria said. “And it now seems like every studio is playing with a different set of different rules and metrics about what’s financially successful and what isn’t.”


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