Hollywood writers strike over pay amid streaming ripple effects

Writers Guild of America West member Victor Duenas pickets with others at an entrance to Paramount Pictures, Tuesday, May 2, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Picket lines have formed outside studios in Los Angeles and New York as thousands of writers go on strike over pay and conditions in the streaming era.

Late-night shows fronted by the likes of Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Myers and Stephen Colbert were expected to be the first casualties as 11,000 union members walked off the job for the first time in 15 years on Tuesday.

"Writers are not being paid enough," Louis Jones told the AFP news agency outside Netflix in Los Angeles.

"Writers are working long hours, and I'm not seeing a lot of residuals on recurrent episodes on TV.

"So I think writers just want a little bit more than what's being offered," he said.

The strike, which could hit TV series and movies scheduled for release later this year if it continues, came after talks between the Writers Guild of America [WGA] and the studios' Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers [AMPTP], collapsed.

The WGA said late on Monday the studios' response to its proposals had been "wholly insufficient, given the existential crisis writers are facing."

The rise of streaming has eroded television ad revenue as traditional TV audiences shrink.

Demands 'not unreasonable'

The last time Hollywood writers laid down their pens, in 2007, the strike lasted for 100 days, and cost LA's entertainment economy around $2 billion.

This time, the two sides are clashing as writers demand higher pay, minimum guarantees of stable employment and a greater share of profits from the boom in streaming, while studios say they must cut costs due to economic pressures.

WGA member Danielle Sanchez-Witzel, who was picketing Netflix in Los Angeles, said the guild believed the studios had plenty of room to improve their offer.

"If we got everything we originally asked for, it's less than 2 percent of the profits they make off ... the product we create for them," she said.

Late-night hosts Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Fallon — both members of the guild — backed the writers, with Colbert saying their demands were "not unreasonable."

Fallon told AFP at the Met Gala in New York, "I support my writers; we have a lot of staff and crew that will be affected by this, but they got to get a fair deal."

And "Abbot Elementary" creator and star Quinta Brunson, said her fellow guild members had her full backing.

"No one wants this strike ... I hope that we're able to rectify this, whatever that means," she said.

'Sticking points'

Writers say it is becoming impossible to earn a living, as salaries have flatlined or declined after inflation, even as employers reap profits and fatten executives' paychecks.

More writers than ever are working at the union-mandated minimum wage.

A major source of disagreement during talks was the growing trend for TV shows to hire fewer writers, for shorter durations, to script series.

As talks collapsed on Monday, the WGA accused studios of seeking to create a "gig economy" in which writing would become an "entirely freelance profession."

The AMPTP said WGA demands that studios hire a set number of writers "for a specified period of time, whether needed or not" were "primary sticking points."

Another issue on the table is reworking the formula that calculates how writers are paid for streaming shows, which often remain on platforms like Netflix years after they were written.

For decades, writers have been paid "residuals" from each reuse of their material, such as TV reruns or DVD sales.

With streaming, writers simply get a fixed annual payout — even if their work generates a smash hit like "Bridgerton" or "Stranger Things," streamed by hundreds of millions of viewers around the world.

The WGA also wants to address the future impact of artificial intelligence on writing.


Source: TRT World