After almost 150 days of striking, the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) entered into a tentative agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). On September 27, 2023, the union ended the writer’s strike, making it the second-longest writer’s strike in history.
The tentative contract contains groundbreaking agreements between the executive and their writing staff, like requiring a minimum number of writers in the writing room, guaranteeing employment length, offering protection against AI, and finally implementing success-based residuals on streaming platforms. In fact, most of the agreements were lobbied against streaming platforms whose new business model has only now come under fire. While this is all cause for a massive celebration, it also makes many wonder why it took this long at all?
The disgusting tactics of the AMPTP, backed by the CEOs and studio executives of multiple streaming platforms, revealed sentiments that have long been tried to be kept under wraps. The empty PR apologies and multi-million dollar remakes with “diverse” castings and white male directors were poor attempts at masking the greedy motives of studio executives and millionaire CEOs for many years.
However, the executives let loose their words during the writer’s strike. According to Deadline, one executive stated, “The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses.” By forcing the writers into desperation, the executives could broker a deal with the least resistance.
Ultimately, the strategy was also applied towards the Screen Actor’s Guild American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, a union for actors that went on strike in July. Yet, due to the approval of the contract between the WGA and the AMPTP, the studio dominos have started to fall as SAG-AFTRA entered into formal negotiations with the AMPTP. The main point of contention within these negotiations is the prospect of revenue sharing, where casts of successful TV shows would receive 2% of the profits. The AMPTP argues that the current model of streaming would not allow for such profit margins for actors.
The issue of revenue sharing mirrors a similar issue within the writer’s strike, the issue of residuals. Both actors and writers have found that the current entertainment model of streaming is not conducive to the same amount of income that they would have received if they worked on a network show that premiered on cable.
For years, streaming has been the most popular way to consume media, something that was compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic. It completely changed how a TV show was made with seasons lengths going from 22-23 episodes to anywhere from 4-10 episodes with no advertisement breaks to worry about. These new shows were praised for their ingenuity and intellectual nature, shows like HB’s Succession and Amazon Prime’s Fleabag, as opposed to the formulaic and lower quality network television.
This shift in the industry came at a price. The shorter season lengths and thus, shorter shooting lengths, create a massive loss in income for the production teams. Network Television used to have year-long shoots, keeping people employed for much longer periods. Network Television also offered residuals which gave actors and writers a way to make money off of projects long after they wrapped.
This is all to say, streaming allowed for higher profit margins for its executives while forcing the creatives behind the projects to adapt to a business model that cut their income signifigantly. The continued corporate greed of streaming executives is what led to the WGA and subsequently SAG-AFTRA strikes.
Now that the WGA has broken the barrier in the streaming model, it is likely that the negotiations with SAG-AFTRA will follow that contract’s precedent. The WGA’s new contract also broke barriers for protections against AI becoming one of the first union’s to specifically prohibit the use of AI by production companies to cut their worker’s wages. It’s safe to say that the WGA’s groundbreaking contract will create a ripple effect throughout the entertainment industry and related industries.
According to a study done by StudentMonitor in 2019, 71% of a college student’s media usage comes from streaming services and 81% of college students are interested in exclusively viewing media via streaming services. With college students more likely to own a laptop than a TV and most streaming services offering a student discount, it makes sense for streaming to be a preferable choice. Be that as it may, the student discounts are starting to lessen and the prices to subscribe to streaming services are increasing due to inflation which begs the question on whether the streaming services will be able to hold onto a key demographic. It also means that college students might be more likely to shift to free cable or to other means of free entertainment like youtube.