Over 11,000 television and movie writers have gone on strike following the breakdown of pay negotiations between their union, the Writers Guild of America, and various major Hollywood studios.
It's the first strike in Hollywood in 15 years. Over 11,000 writers have put their pens down, shut their laptops and went on strike on Tuesday, after a breakdown in negotiations over fair pay in the streaming era between the Writers Guild of America and various studios.
A walkout began at 12.01 am Pacific Daylight Time after the current contract expired, prompting a work stoppage which caused most late-night shows such as "The Tonight Show" or the "Daily Show" to go dark and air re-runs.
“No contracts, no content!” sign-carrying members of the Writers Guild of America chanted outside the Manhattan building where NBCUniversal was touting its Peacock streaming service to advertisers.
The union is seeking higher minimum pay, more writers per show and shorter exclusive contracts, among other demands — all conditions it says have been diminished in the content boom driven by streaming.
The labour dispute could have a cascading effect on TV and film productions depending on how long the strike lasts, and it comes as streaming services are under growing pressure from Wall Street to show profits.
Impact on late-night TV
Late-night television was the first to feel the fallout, just as it was during the 2007 writers' strike that lasted for 100 days.
“Everyone including myself hope both sides reach a deal. But I also think that the writers’ demands are not unreasonable,” host Stephen Colbert said on Monday's “Late Show.”
The strike's impact on scripted series and films will take longer to notice. If a strike persisted through the summer, fall TV schedules could be upended. In the meantime, those with finished scripts are permitted to continue shooting.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios and productions companies, said it presented an offer with “generous increases in compensation for writers as well as improvements in streaming residuals.”
The trade association said in a statement that it was prepared to improve its offer “but was unwilling to do so because of the magnitude of other proposals still on the table that the guild continues to insist upon."
'Gig economy inside union workforce'
A shutdown has been widely forecast for months. Writers last month voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike, with 98% of the membership in support. They say their pay isn't keeping pace with inflation, TV writer rooms have shrunk too much and the old calculus for how residuals are paid out needs to be redrawn.
Streaming has exploded the number of series and films that are annually made, meaning more jobs for writers. But writers say they’re making less than they used to while working under more strained conditions. The WGA said, "The companies' behaviour has created a gig economy inside a union workforce.”
The union is seeking more compensation for writers upfront. That's because many of the payments writers have historically profited from on the back end — like syndication and international licensing — have been largely phased out by the onset of streaming.
The WGA strike may only be the beginning. Contracts for both the Directors Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA, the actors union, expire in June. Some of the same issues around the business model of streaming will factor into those bargaining sessions.
The actors' union on Tuesday encouraged its members to join the writers’ picket lines in solidarity.