LOS ANGELES (May 1) (Reuters) – Thousands of film and television writers will strike starting Tuesday, sending Hollywood into turmoil as the entertainment business grapples with the seismic changes brought on by the global TV broadcast boom.
The Writers Guild of America (WGA) has called for a layoff for the first time in 15 years after failing to reach an agreement on higher salaries from studios such as Walt Disney Co (DIS.N) and Netflix Inc (NFLX.O). The last strike lasted 100 days and cost the California economy over $2 billion.
“The companies’ behavior has created a labor-based economy within the unionized workforce, and their steadfast stance in these negotiations has demonstrated a commitment to further devaluing the writing profession,” the WGA said in a statement on its website.
The Guild represents approximately 11,500 writers in New York, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. Members were set to begin striking outside Hollywood studios from Tuesday afternoon.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents the studios, said late Monday that it had offered “generous increases in compensation” to the writers but that the two sides were unable to reach an agreement.
Media companies face a difficult economic background. The conglomerates are under pressure from Wall Street to make streaming services profitable after investing billions of dollars in programming to attract subscribers.
The rise of broadcasting has reduced television advertising revenues, as traditional television audiences shrink and advertisers go elsewhere. Moreover, the threat of a recession looms large in the world’s largest economy.
The WGA’s most recent strike, in 2007 and 2008, cost California’s economy an estimated $2.1 billion as production halted and out-of-work writers, actors, and producers slashed spending.
The producers were willing to increase their high-pay and hangover offerings, AMPTP said, but “were not willing to do so because of the volume of other proposals still on the table that the union continues to insist on.”
The group said the primary sticking points are proposals that “require the company to work on a show with a certain number of writers for a specified period of time, whether it is required or not.”
The WGA responded that the studios’ responses to its proposals “were wholly inadequate, given the existential crisis faced by writers”.
The union added, “The corporations broke that business. They took a lot from the same people, the writers, that made them rich.”
The writers say they struggled financially during the broadcast television boom, in part because of the shorter seasons and smaller residual payments.
Half of TV series writers now work at minimum salary levels, compared with a third in the 2013-14 season, according to union statistics. Average salary for clerks at the top writer/producer level has fallen by 4% over the past decade.
Artificial intelligence is another issue on the negotiating table. The WGA wants safeguards to prevent studios from using AI to create new scripts from writers’ past work. Writers also want to ensure that they are not required to rewrite draft scripts created by AI.
Until the conflicts are resolved, some TV shows will be disabled.
Late-night shows like “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon,” which use teams of writers to write topical jokes, are expected to cease production immediately.
This means that new episodes will not be available during traditional TV time slots or on streaming services that make them available the next day.
Furthermore, the strike could delay the fall TV season. Writing for fall shows usually begins in May or June. If the hiatus is prolonged, networks will increasingly fill their programming blocks with unscripted reality shows, news magazines, and reruns.
Netflix may be insulated from any immediate impact due to its global focus and access to production facilities outside of the United States
(Reporting by Lisa Richwin, Don Chmielewski and Daniel Broadway in Los Angeles); Editing by Mary Milliken and Jonathan Otis
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