TV writers see record growth in earnings, WGA report says

TV writers see record growth in earnings, WGA report says
Portraits of famous screenwriters line the front hallway of the offices of the Writers Guild of America, West, which reported record-setting revenues among its members. (Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times)

Television writers had a record year for earnings in 2012, according to a new report from the Writers Guild of America, West.

TV writers generated $667.2 million in earnings last year, up 10% from the prior year, as writers earned more from cable programs and rental services such as Netflix and Hulu.

Employment among TV writers grew 2%, with 3,508 writers reporting earnings.

By contrast, employment and earnings in the film arena declined significantly for the third year in a row in 2012, with employment down about 7% to 1,537 writers, and earnings falling 6.1% to $343 million. In the last three years, about 17% fewer writers have been employed on screen as studios have cut back the number of movies they release each year.

Overall, total earnings among WGA, West members grew 4% and exceeded $1 billion for the first time, while overall employment dipped 1% in 2012, according to the report.

The guild also reported that residuals -- the fees writers receive when their work is rerun -- grew to a record high of $348.7 million, up 6% over 2011.  Most of the gains came from cable television residuals and the reuse of programs in new media by such services as Netflix.

Feature-film writers reported residual income of $133.1 million in 2012, up 5% from 2011 but down from the high-water mark of $140.1 million in 2010. DVD and Blu-ray revenue stabilized after a sharp decline in 2011, while residuals from pay television and new media grew.