Negotiation: The Simpsons

There is bad blood between the voice actors and the Fox Network because in the beginning they were paid low salaries and these were not fairly reevaluated based on the success of the show. Fox instead haggled over contracts, let them expire and therefore the actors feel as though they have been treated unjustly, without respect and as if they were expendable (though the character of the Simpsons directly is attributed to them).

  1. Stakeholders: Fox as a corporation, the voice actors, and all other people involved in the production of the show (animators, writers, Matt Groening), voice actors in general (as a precedent is set) and finally fans of the Simpsons.
  2. Seriousness: The conflict is very serious as, whether or not the network realizes it, the character and existence of the Simpsons as a hit show hinges on the successful negotiation of these contracts (unless you believe the voice actors can be replaced and not affect the show).
  3. Ongoing Relationship: The parties do have an ongoing relationship.
  4. Goals: The actors desire a longer contract (security), periodic raises or incentives (monetary recognition), and personal recognition (recognition). Also of interest are kickbacks from merchandising sales.
  5. Court: This dispute will not go to court because there is no contract, therefore no legal issue.
  6. Avoiding Court: Not applicable.
  7. Distributive: The actors want at least $200k (on top of other benefits), up to $400k per episode. They want a signing bonus to make up for their expenses in the PR debacle. Money from merchandising sales, and they don’t really care about stock options (based on Seinfeld).
  8. Integrative: Recognition, both on the back of DVD boxes where guest stars are already recognized, and in the front credits for the show rather than at the end. Retraction of the newspaper reports, and a special show that ‘rights the wrong’ to correct the fallacy that they only work “one hour a week”.
  9. Issues:

    Voice Actors

    1. Compensation (Fairness)The voice actors are most interested in their per show compensation, as they feel they are being unjustly paid relative to the success of the show and the integral part they play in it being so. They are interested in higher comp, signing bonuses, and possible revenue from merchandise sales.
    2. “Righting the Wrong” (Justice) The most important integrative issue for the voice actors is the desire for self-perceived ‘justice’—that the network should right the wrong they’ve done and print retractions and publically make it right.
    3. Recognition (Ego) The voice actors would like more and better recognition for their work. They hope to acquire this recognition through placement on the back of the box of DVD’s (similar to the manner in which guest stars are noted) and through being recognized in the opening credits, rather than the closing ones. This goes to their ego, and is an element in their future success post-Simpsons (helps get jobs when people know ‘who’ you are).
    4. Longer Contract (Security) The actors would like a longer contract to avoid immediate re-negotiations in the relative future, and to ensure their personal security. They feel this is required because based on Fox’s previous behaviors in negotiations; they have a diminished ability to believe that they will be treated fair, just and in a timely manner. In short, their sense of security is compromised and longer contracts would alleviate some of this.

    Fox Network

    1. Protect “The Simpsons” (Money) First and foremost, Fox Network has a bona fide hit on their hands and they want to protect that (Fox’s single greatest asset) as it directly equates to big money in revenue from advertising and merchandising sales. They will do whatever necessary to ensure its continued development and success. (Note: They feel the voice actors as they relate to characters voices are expendable and can be replaced!!!)
    2. We’re Infallible (Ego) I believe the Fox Network is most interested in protecting its reputation as well as that they were not wrong, nor ‘in the wrong’. This is at odds with the actor’s desire to have Fox ‘right the wrong’. Fox will have no desire to be shamed, or to be ‘publically flogged’.
    3. Time Crunch (Expediency) Fox has 16 days to roll out the new line up for the season. Without the voice actors under contract it would be difficult to near-impossible to continue the Simpsons. (Finding new talent, organizing rehearsals and successfully transitioning over.) This need for expediency returns to first interest to protect “The Simpsons” as Fox’s cash cow.
    4. Super Bowl (Money)Fox has a Super Bowl special coming up. The Super Bowl is advertising’s biggest day in the US. The Simpson’s participation highlights Fox as a cool network which supports viewing audiences, and therefore encourages advertisers to come to Fox. It’s a lucrative business — it IS their business. Losing the actors jeopardizes Fox’s position and desirability to advertisers.
  10. Non-Legal Options: Fox could print retractions that correct previously reported news stories. They can easily integrate the voice actor’s names onto the back of the DVD boxes, and to add their names to the opening credits.
  11. Standards: Seinfeld exist as an example of a show that started out small and became a big success. Their actors successfully negotiated their salary increases based on the success of the show, and set a precedent for actors being deemed critical to the livelihood of a show.
  12. Distributive Bargaining Plan:
    1. The actors want at least $200k (on top of other benefits), up to $400k per episode. For this I would start high, at $500k to calibrate expectations. Based on what Fox is willing to give in terms of integrative issues then we would adjust our expectations of per episode agreement.
    2. They want a signing bonus to make up for their expenses in the PR debacle. This I would push as a means for Fox to privately recognize “the wrong” and to “make good” with the actors. It is a bargaining chip for Fox to avoid public recognition and the inevitably associated PR.
    3. Money from merchandising sales, and they don’t really care about stock options (based on Seinfeld). I don’t believe that the voice actors are going to get this, so this is not a point to make as a walking away. Fox gets a lot of money from this area, so it’s a point to use in pushing for more money in salary.
  13. Optimal Settlement: Optimal settlement is $400k per episode, signing bonuses of $50k+, longer contracts, a portion of merchandising sales, personal recognition (DVD, credits), and retraction of newspaper reports.
  14. Why: Because this is the most that they hope for, with the inclusion of all additionally desired benefits.
  15. Open: I would open with $500k. This is higher than our optimal number.
  16. Why: This will calibrate our expectations according to the Bargaining for Advantage text. It is also the best means of opening when in a transactional negotiation such as this one.
  17. Target: Target for settlement is $350k plus longer contract, DVD and credits recognition points, signing bonus and scheduled reviews for additional bonuses and incentives.
  18. Why: Because I don’t think that money (in the form of the voice actor’s salary) is really a BIG issue for Fox in light of what they stand to lose in losing the Simpsons I believe that a higher salary with concessions related to financial areas are a big deal. However, I am aware that this may be done only if they are private because Fox doesn’t want to shoot itself in the foot when it comes to future negotiations with other actors and the precedent that they will have set. I think the target is $350k because I don’t know industry standards but think that this is probably pretty damn good (as indicated at being at the high side of the actor’s desired range).
  19. Resistance Point: My resistance point is anything under $300k.
  20. Why: I feel Fox will not accept any agreement that pays from the merchandising sales, and that means that salary is the biggest point of distributive concern for the actors. If I come back with less than half of their desired range and “nothing else” they’ll be suspect of how hard I tried, and it’ll be much harder to have them be amiable to writing the apology letter as I’d like.
  21. Concession Points:
    1. $375k — a point to show that we’re willing to wiggle.
    2. $350k — start talking about integrative issues, pushing harder. Let merchandising go, in return for signing bonus, and reviews.
    3. $300k — with everything that is included in the optimal settlement (minus merchandising sales kick back’s).
  22. Other Side: The other side is going to be willing to haggle with per episode salary since they bring in so much, but they will want to keep the details of negotiation confidential. Their optimal settlement will keep the actor’s out of the merchandising ‘cookie jar’. Immediate resolution and the Super Bowl special is the most important integrative issues, besides them ‘saving face’ publically.
  23. Our BATNA: Our best alternative to a negotiated agreement is the ability to do a Simpson’s like show on another network, like Futurama or The Family Guy.
  24. Their BATNA: Their best alternative is to be able to immediately replace the voice actor’s with comparable talent that would be able to continue the show and carry it forward with the same success. However, I believe this is highly unlikely.
  25. Our WATNA: Worst alternative for our side is that we are out of work without a negotiated contract and that the negative publicity from being partially at fault for the ultimate ‘death’ of the Simpsons would put a stigma on us as actors and mean that finding work is incredibly difficult. There is also bad blood with all the other people who were depending on us to come to an agreement because the Simpsons are their livelihood.
  26. Their WATNA: Their worst alternative is what I think is likely that without these particular actor’s voices who have come to embody and personify who the Simpson’s are the show will either be immediately canned or in jeopardy of being canned within the next season. The fans will not survive the transition of the characters over to voices who just aren’t the same. Fox loses its single greatest asset and all the advertising and lucrative merchandising business that comes with it. Fans everywhere blame Fox for not treating them better and for having killed America’s first (animated) family.
  27. No Deal: Fox has more to lose if they have no deal. The money that they bring in as a direct result of the Simpsons is magnitudes greater than that which they would have to give to keep the show alive. The bad publicity would have a ripple effect from which it will take a long time to recover.
  28. Court: There would be no court case, however if there were Fox would exhaust the actor’s financial resources to win the case.
  29. Jury: If there were a case, and it was a jury case then the public would feel for the actors. No one would look at what Fox was racking in and feel as though they couldn’t afford to reward those who make it possible.
  30. Want to Know: I would love to know what Fox really fears. I feel like we have a pretty good sense of what they have to lose, but you never know what details you’re unaware of!
  31. Confidential Facts: I want to protect what the actors are willing to give on (how low they are willing to go) and the actual dollar amounts until Fox makes an offer. I don’t want to shoot too low and end up losing the chance of making up for the past several years of low pay. I will also keep it under my hat that they are willing to take the same pay until it becomes a point for bargaining.

In this negotiation I tried the tactic from Bargaining for Advantage of putting an optimistic bid out on the table to ‘calibrate expectations’. They opened first with a low bid, of signing again for the same salary as before ($135k per episode) and I “corrected” them with our expectations saying that we were coming to the table expecting $500k. They then had a “whoa” moment and realized that we were in two different playing fields. While I knew we’d never get (or at least didn’t reasonably expect to) the $500k, the intention was to bring us to a place where if we ‘split the difference’ the money would still be in our favor. That is indeed what happened. We jumped easily up to $200k per episode and then I spent the rest of the negotiation pushing for $300k whenever the topic came up.

I also acted as though what I was asking for was completely reasonable. I was easy going, but not too quick, in defending the reasoning that this was a “solid” and reasonable amount of money for them to be asking. When the Fox executive re-read back the details of what we had on the table (to ensure correct understanding) I parroted it back with the salary being $300k as if that was clearly what I had heard. It was all very “innocent” in appearance while being very devious and calculated underneath. (In that moment I held my breath that it would be my partner who would have corrected me thereby blowing the bluff but she caught was up and didn’t blow it! J)

I noticed how Niki’s body language was in this negotiation, and at about halfway through noticed that I had gotten excited and was very engaged and had started to lean forward while she was still leaning back in a relaxed and distant manner. In my next negotiation I want to remain aware of my body language at all points in time in the negotiation and adapt it a bit quicker to the circumstances. I do not believe that it is a “one size fits all” kind of thing, but rather that it needs to be tailored to the situation’s specific circumstances (friendly, hostile, etc.) and to the demeanor of the people with whom you are engaged in negotiation with.

I also want to continue to set a high but within reason opening point (not that I open, but that when I have to give a number that it fits) to see about eeking out just a little bit more money each time. I also think I get the concept of negotiation concession points a bit better now when you realize that concessions are not necessarily always in the downward movement when it comes to distributive factors. For instance, if you agree to give up certain things then you in turn can fight for more money. So you should remember that it’s not always work your way down once you start!


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