Hollywood writers go on strike as streaming boom changes industry

Thousands of Hollywood film and television writers are set to go on strike on Tuesday, 2 May as a reaction to significant changes in the industry triggered by the ever-growing popularity of streaming.

The entertainment business will likely be hugely affected; the last strike of its kind lasted 100 days and cost the Californian economy over $2 billion (approximately €1.82 billion).

The Writers Guild of America, or WGA, called for its first work stoppage in 15 years late on Monday (1 May) after failing to reach an agreement for better pay conditions from studios including Netflix and Walt Disney Co.

In a statement on its website, the WGA poured scorn on the changing entertainment industry, saying, “The companies’ behaviour 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”.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents the studios, explained that they had offered “generous increases in compensation” to writers but the two parties were unable to reach a deal.

The WGA represents roughly 11,500 writers across the United States and, in the heartland of film and television making, Guild members are set to picketing outside of Hollywood studios on Tuesday.

Streaming as big business

While writers are praised for their creativity, at the bottom of the strike is pure business.

Media companies are facing pressure from Wall Street and other investors who pumped billions of dollars into the studios in order to make their streaming services profitable and attract subscribers.

Streaming’s speedy rise to popularity has led to significantly declining advertising revenue for TV shows as traditional audiences are frequently choosing on-demand programming, causing advertisers to take their money elsewhere.

While the AMPTP say their offers of higher pay and residuals are fair, the WGA has fought back, calling the studios’ responses to their demands, including a requirement for companies to staff a production with a certain number of writers regardless of the actual need for them, “wholly insufficient, given the existential crisis writers are facing”.

It seems to be an all-out war in Hollywood, with the Guild adding, “The companies have broken this business. They have taken so much from the very people, the writers, who have made them wealthy”.

Writers claim they have suffered financially as a result of the streaming TV boom, with a reported half of TV series writers now working at minimum salary levels, compared with just a third in the 2013-14 season. In the last decade, the Guild also reports that median pay for writers at a higher level has fallen by approximately 4%.

An uncertain future for Hollywood

Artificial intelligence’s increasing popularity is also causing conflict between the striking writers and the studios. The WGA has said it’s crucial that its members are safeguarded against studios using AI to generate new scripts from writers’ previous work and they want to make sure that humans are not forced to rewrite draft scripts written by AI.

Unsurprisingly, some TV programming will face immediate disruption – with popular U.S. shows including Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon set to immediately go off air. Television and film will be affected longer term too – with autumn shows set to take the hit, as writing for that season typically starts in May or June.

The strike may not damage all networks though; Netflix are likely to avoid any immediate impact because of their more global focus and access to production facilities outside of the United States.

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