Is it a job or is it a competition? Equity says X-Factor contestants should be paid

Equity says Reality TV producers on X-Factor are exploiting performers by not paying them an Equity wage. Equity are calling for all contestants who reach the final round to be paid and have legal status as workers.

X-Factor producers say Equity rates "do not apply" because its shows were competitions and not employment.

This BBC news article describes how X-Factor producers justify not paying their contestants:

"Contestants choose to enter to compete for a substantial prize...The shows also give ordinary people an opportunity to showcase their talents and potentially transform their lives."

The article goes on to say that '[Previously] Equity accused production company Endemol of not paying contestants on BBC One show The One and Only. It alleges companies like Endemol and Talkback Thames are exploiting a loophole in minimum wage legislation that means contestants on reality talent shows have no employment rights.The union has called on them to follow the example of the BBC, which paid contestants in the final rounds of talent shows How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?, Any Dream Will Do and I'd Do Anything at Equity rates.'

Do you think that Equity is right in calling for full pay for performers in these competitions? Are they being exploited or is the chance of winning a big contract enough? Alternatively, is this argument reinforcing the "X-Factor Attitude" that anyone off the street can be a performer? Or have these finalist contestants proved that they are professional artistes by being in the final?

I was really interested in this article particularly bearing in mind the reactions to my last blog post about Online-casting for the film Submarine. What is exploitation and what is a showcase? Unfortunately in the world of performance, whether this is theatre, music, dance, visual art, when so many people are aiming so high, it seems very easy to allow exploitation of creative people who are desperate to "showcase their talents and potentially transform their lives".

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Comment by Catherine Paskell on September 2, 2009 at 13:31
Yes, getting something for nothing... there does seem to be a lot of that going on, and as you say, particularly with these independent production companies. Especially if you think about how much revenue these shows gain - so, surely buy extension, should the performers? Interesting to read today too that Alan Davies is taking a pay cut to do the new series of Jonathan Creek and the production budget is being halved. Interesting after the storm about Jonathan Ross' wages v his relative worth.
Comment by Terry Victor on August 25, 2009 at 11:12
There is no question that the finalists should be paid. They are contracted and rehearsed by the independent TV companies responsible. The contracts are restrictive and the performers have no choice but to sign if they are to get the exposure. Beyond the obvious moral and contractual impications this is independent companies taking advantage of a loophole in National Minimum Wage legislation.
The artists (whatever their otherwise professional/semi-pro/amateur status) are providing a professional service to the viewing public. Therefore they deserve to be paid a professional rate - if there is to be in any dignity in labour.
If this should be the first rung on the showbiz ladder to eventual stardom it is no different to an office junior on his/her way to the executive bathroom/glass ceiling: the office junior still gets paid. It's the law. No contest. NB: The Beeb acceded to Equity's demand to pay the Marias, etc.
Comment by john norton on August 24, 2009 at 23:15
last week my downpipe broke so i called up a plumber and asked him if he was free to fix it - i told him that i couldn't pay him, but that it would be a really good opportunity for him to get a bit more profile in grangetown, and that, possibly i would need more plumbing sorting in the future, which i was hoping would be funded - maybe even up to the minimum wage. I can't work out why he didn't come and do it
Comment by Danny KilBride on August 24, 2009 at 12:06
It isn't as complicated as people like to suggest. A showcase is a semi-closed event and entertainment is the exploitation of performances, IP etc. If it happens on ITV then it is not a showcase at all.

The real question is who is making money from exploiting what? The show relies on the broadcast of footage taken of "amateur" performers, who would be paid £180 a go if they were members of the Musicians Union. There is no doubt that the shows make loadsamoney for the companies involved and provide entertainment for millions of people. If that is the case then the providers of the entertainment - the performers should receive a share of the money generated. BBC licence payers and people who buy branded items that are advertised on TV are paying huge sumes of money to the production companies and the contributions made by the hopeful contributors should be given a financial value and recompensed accordingly. That is only fair.

Those who oppose the performers getting paid do not understand this. The producer and the cameraman and the make-up artist could all have their work described as a showcase and be forced to contribute for nothing on the off chance that somebody might hire them in the future. Indeed this argument is often presented when production companies want to get something for nothing. It is symptomatic of the institutional greed that fires many production companies. It also offers an interesting insight into the way these companies look at the people who contribute to their profit streams. They refuse to acknowledge that they are just brokers- offering talent and added value after the creation of IP- to do so would threaten their stranglehold over the creative process and the income streams that accompany it.

In the meantime I think we should turn the damn box off.
Comment by Sofia Woods on August 20, 2009 at 16:31
I'm always up for the artists to get paid! So yes - I agree - there should be some renumeration in the final rounds as suggested. I know the winning contestant will recieve a large sum of money - fame bla bla at the end of it - however - think of how much the TV producers/TV channels are making also!

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