Using information provided by agencies through the new franchise agreement, the Guild is releasing a 2021 guide to key pilot compensation terms. The analysis is based on approximately seven hundred pilot deals, primarily from 2020 and 2021.

Pilot Compensation Terms Across All Markets

Key compensation terms in pilot deals include pilot script fees, pilot producing fees, episodic fees in the event the pilot is picked up to series, and series sale bonus compensation. Compared to the 2019 Pilot Deal Guide, median rates for all deal terms have increased with the exception of Series Sale Bonuses, which have slightly declined.

One-Hour Pilots
  Median Change vs. 2019 Maximum Reported
Pilot Script $175,000 +$17,500 $ 1,000,000
Pilot Producing Fee $45,000 +$5,500 $175,000
Episodic Fee $43,750 +$7,000 $175,000
Series Sale Bonus $25,000 -$1,250 $150,000
Half-Hour Pilots
  Median Change vs. 2019 Maximum Reported
Pilot Script $150,000 +$45,000 $500,000
Pilot Producing Fee $40,000 +$5,750 $125,000
Episodic Fee $37,500 +$6,000 $125,000
Series Sale Bonus $25,000 -$1,250 $150,000

Historically, pilot producing fees were paid at a premium relative to episodic fees; writers should work with their representatives to negotiate higher pilot producing fees than episodic fees.

Pilot Compensation Terms for Streamers

In today’s market, some pilot deals are done without the writer or studio knowing exactly where the pilot and series may ultimately end up. However, with all the major studios now operating their own streaming services, plus the operations of the tech giants – Apple, Amazon and Netflix – many pilots are made specifically for streaming services. Writers making pilot deals for streaming services should be aware that the medians for script fees, pilot producing fees, and episodic fees for one-hour pilots are higher than those reported for the overall market.

Streaming One-Hour Pilots
  Median Maximum Reported
Pilot Script $200,000 $1,000,000
Pilot Producing Fee $50,000 $175,000
Episodic Fee $50,000 $175,000
Series Sale Bonus $25,000 $150,000
Streaming Half-Hour Pilots
  Median Maximum Reported
Pilot Script $150,000 $500,000
Pilot Producing Fee $40,000 $75,000
Episodic Fee $40,000 $75,000
Series Sale Bonus $25,000 $50,000

If you are making a pilot deal without knowing what network or service might eventually produce the series, you should try to negotiate episodic fees that vary depending on the outlet. For example, writers have negotiated a premium episodic fee if the pilot goes to a broadcast network, pay TV (HBO, Showtime, etc.) or top-tier subscription streaming services, which can include Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Disney+, Hulu, and other streamers where the series budgets and license fees may be comparable to the top tier. Second-tier fees then apply to outlets like basic cable and smaller streamers.

Please make sure to check out our other resources for TV writers, including the Weekly Pay Calculator, the Span Guide, and the Options & Exclusivity Guide. These guides can help you and your reps assess what overscale terms you may need to address the amortization of your episodic fee, or to limit the company’s ability to hold you through option periods or require exclusivity if you earn more than the MBA caps for span and options & exclusivity protections.

Have questions or feedback about this information? Please contact the WGAW’s Research Department. Looking for more specific information on pilot deals with a particular studio? Contact the Agency Department.

If you aren’t represented by an agency, please remember to submit your contracts directly to the Guild. As a reminder, WGA Working Rule 3 requires writers to provide the Guild with a copy of all employment, option and purchase contracts no later than one week after receipt of the contract. Aggregated compensation information, as used in this analysis, is extremely valuable to guide members and representatives’ deal-making.