Members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) began walking picket lines yesterday after failing to agree a new deal with production companies. This strike marks an end to 15 years of labor peace in Hollywood, bringing dozens of television and film projects to an immediate and indefinite halt. According to representatives of the approximately 11,500 striking writers, the rise of streaming has upended the industry and led to declining conditions for creative workers. For example, in the past network television shows often employed writers for over 20 episodes per season, providing them with work for more than a year. These days, though, many streaming services only order 8 or 12 episode runs for new shows.
Along with decreasing median weekly pay by producing fewer episodes, streaming services also allegedly deprive writers of residual payments that their peers in previous generations enjoyed. For years, creative professionals received residuals whenever a show they worked on became licensed either through television syndication or DVD sales. That means a writer on a show like Seinfeld or Friends could earn money whenever the studio struck a new deal to air reruns, giving them some financial stability between writing jobs. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon don’t care about TV syndication or DVDs, however, and many residual payments are attached to fixed rates. Writers say these conditions have created an “existential” crisis in the industry where “the survival of writing as a profession is at stake in this negotiation.”
According to the WGA, “the [production] companies’ behavior has created a gig economy inside a union workforce, and their immovable stance in this negotiation has betrayed a commitment to further devaluing the profession of writing.” Studios say their primary concerns lie with union proposals that would require writers to be on set “whether needed or not” as well as changing investor attitudes towards streaming. While Wall Street was once bullish on the growth of streaming platforms, their failure to deliver on promises of profit led to plummeting stock prices in the last year. Companies responded with drastic cuts: Warner Bros. Discovery laid off thousands of workers while Disney is in the process of letting more than 7,000 people go. Unionized writers are on strike in an effort to establish some stability in this tumultuous industry, and it remains to be seen if they’ll be successful. For now, though, no new movies or scripted television shows will be produced with union labor in Hollywood until a new agreement is reached.
- Why are members of the Writers Guild of America striking against movie and television studios?
- Do you think the WGA’s strike will be successful? Why or why not?
Source: John Koblin and Brooks Barnes, “Hollywood Writers Go on Strike, Halting Production,” The New York Times, May 1, 2023. Photo by John Edwards.