What to Know About a TV Contract Before You Sign

TV contracts used to be reserved for the top news anchors in the country's largest designated market areas (DMA) and at the networks. That's no longer the case. The market for experienced workers has become so competitive that stations are requiring most of their staff to sign contracts, even for those working behind the scenes. By knowing the seven basics of a TV contract before signing, you can be confident that the deal is right for you or better prepare yourself on ​how to negotiate for more.

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Term of the Deal

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The term of a TV contract is the length of time you're committing to the station. Expect two to three years, up to five years if you're being offered a top-level position.

Most stations consider your first year to be a training year―even if you have experience somewhere else, you still have to learn how the station operates and make contacts in the city.

For on-air workers, the station needs time to promote you and the audience has to become familiar with your name and face. That's why many on-air contracts, especially for anchors, start at three years.

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List of Services

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The services outline the job functions you'll be required to perform. You will likely find that the list is broader and vaguer than you thought.

Stations do not like to tie themselves down contractually by specifying that you are the "weeknight 6 and 11 p.m. anchor" in case someday they want to move you to the 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts or to weekends. Managers want some flexibility without having to re-write the entire deal.

Also, many TV contracts contain a clause that you will "perform other duties as assigned by management." That allows the station to give you additional job duties at any time without violating the contract.

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This is the section that details how much you'll be paid. For salaried workers, this is straightforward. You will see your pay for each year of the deal.

Hourly employees will want to check to see if there's a guarantee of overtime because that additional pay will greatly affect your take-home check. Hourly workers also need to know what happens if they don't work the standard 40 hours per week because of illness or other factors.

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Station Rights

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These clauses may alarm you, but they are a standard part of a TV contract. You are agreeing that the station owns your work to use as it sees fit.

On-air workers will agree to allow the station to use their faces, voices, and name however it wants. These rights will extend beyond the length of the contract. That means that if you sign for three years, the station still retains these rights after the contract expires.

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Morals Clauses

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Here's another section of a TV contract that may cause concern. Many TV stations want to make sure their employees conduct themselves lawfully and morally. Violating this part of the agreement is one of the top reasons for getting fired from your job.

By agreeing to this language, you are telling the station that it can fire you if you are charged with a crime, arrested or involved in a situation that puts the station in a negative light. So if you're charged with drinking and driving, you can be fired before you ever go to trial.

That may seem unfair until you consider the impact on the station. It has spent money putting your face on billboards all over town, only to see that same face plastered on the front page of the newspaper under the headline "Anchor Arrested."

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Covenant Not to Compete

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Pay close attention to the wording of this part of the contract. With a non-compete clause, you are promising to the station that you will not jump over to work at a competing station for a certain length of time, usually six months to a year.

This covenant extends beyond the expiration of your agreement. So if you sign a two-year contract with a one year non-compete clause, you can't work at a competitor until after the third year.

Check to see what the station considers a competitor—not only could they be all the stations in town, but also those in a neighboring city. Occasionally, stations will allow on-air talent to work for a competitor off the air while waiting for the clause to expire. You'll want that permission in writing.

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Termination Penalties

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Sometimes, contracts are broken long before they expire. There should be consequences for either side in doing so.

If a station decides that you just aren't working out (but you have not broken the morals clause), you should receive severance pay. That amount will vary depending on your salary and the length of time you've been an employee.

Your ability to break the contract will likely be much more limited. You can try to negotiate an "out clause" in case your dream job opens up in a much bigger city with a fatter paycheck, but get it in writing.

TV contracts are a standard part of the industry. They shouldn't frighten you if you read them thoroughly and understand the requirements. If in doubt, have an attorney check them out.