Hollywood superagent Jeremy Zimmer wants to change how talent is paid

LOS ANGELES • The entertainment industry is shifting under the feet of Hollywood’s writers and actors, with streaming services making it harder for talent to get paid.

But Jeremy Zimmer (picture), head of a talent agency that represents Will Ferrell and Gwyneth Paltrow, thinks he has a solution: Taking a page from the music industry.

Writers, actors and other creative types need to get paid based on the number of people who view their work on streaming services, he said. As television (TV) shows and movies move to an on-demand business model, he wants talent to be compensated the same way musicians get paid by, say, Spotify.

“If you think about Spotify, they pay on a per-stream basis to the artist,” Zimmer, CEO of United Talent Agency, said in an interview. “It’s not a lot of money, but it’s on a per-stream basis. If Spotify is a streaming service paying content creators, why can’t Netflix, a streaming service, pay content creators?”

Compensation is a contentious issue in Hollywood these days. Urged on by their union, the Writers Guild of America, thousands of screenwriters have fired their agents for accepting fees from studios for putting together TV-show deals. The union said those fees come at the expense of the writers, who would make more money if their agents only represented them.

Fewer Episodes

Zimmer, who began his career working in the William Morris agency mailroom 40 years ago, said he thinks the writers will eventually conclude that agents play a vital role in business development and settle their dispute. He agrees, though, that the industry’s evolving business models require a rethink in the way talent is paid.

TV writers and actors, who get paid per episode, can make less money these days, since streaming services typically only commit to six to 10 episodes. A traditional broadcast TV season consists of 22.

There are other issues at play. With big entertainment companies increasingly producing shows for their own channels and subscription services, there’s less opportunity for the talent to make money from reruns. Indeed, Netflix Inc and Amazon.com Inc routinely pay writers in deals that don’t include any of what the industry calls “back-end” profit.

Zimmer isn’t getting much support for his idea now. Netflix tightly controls its viewer data and doesn’t have a big incentive to change the business model that has built it into an industry juggernaut, with a US$165 billion (RM684.75 billion) market value. Musicians, meanwhile, routinely criticise record labels and streaming services for paying them too little. But Zimmer said the pay-per-view model will come in time.

“We’re all trying to head in that direction,” he said. — Bloomberg