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Writers’ strike exemplifies pitfalls of streaming services, unites industry

The Nuge/Flickr
Screenwriters along the picket line near Walt Disney Studios while striking for adequate compensation. Their contract renegotiation requests were denied after streaming giants unjustly refused to adjust their residual payments.

“Fists up, pens down! LA is a union town!” Protesters chanted throughout May in the Writers’ Guild of America Strike, flooding the picket line of the labor union that represents writers from the American film and television industry. 

The Writers’ Guild of America Strike is the largest strike in the industry since 2007, spurred after the union and large companies failed to agree to terms when renegotiating contracts. The union asked for an increase in streaming residuals, which is compensation for reused work, traditionally in the form of reruns or in-flight entertainment. In addition, they are campaigning for preservation of writers’ rooms and limitations on the recycling of their work by artificial intelligence. 

Screenwriting has historically been a freelance profession, however, it has always offered a semblance of financial stability through residual payments. Writers are an essential component of the film industry and must be compensated accordingly.

Prominent industry giants are the target of the strikes. Writers are campaigning against established companies such as Paramount, Walt Disney and Universal, as well as streaming companies such as Netflix and Amazon. 

In a statement published by the WGA, the union claimed that these companies have “slashed compensation and residuals and undermined working conditions.” 

In a world where constant entertainment is incredibly profitable, the only reason to withhold adequate compensation is corporate greed.

Traditionally, studios hire writers’ rooms at the start of a network season, but placements are subject to change every year. With the rise of streaming platforms, writers are forced to seek out more placements as shows are planned far in advance. Streaming studios are less likely to test-run pilot episodes, stripping writers of the chance to greenlight new projects. This radically changes the profession:  there simply are not enough productions for every writer to make a stable income.  

Television programming has strayed from cable to streaming, which relies on platforms like Netflix and Amazon that issue residuals at a much lower rate. Residual income must evolve with the transformation of the entertainment industry.

In a world where constant entertainment is incredibly profitable, the only reason to withhold adequate compensation is corporate greed. This is unacceptable given the amount of time, effort and creativity writers put into producing entertainment.

In addition, streaming repackages the way that content is consumed. While network television presents a 22-episode season with a mid-season break every year, streaming platforms present on-demand eight-episode seasons on an 18-month cycle. Thus, the simultaneous decrease in frequency and length of television series are detrimental to screenwriters.  By cutting down the season length and episode length, studios simultaneously cut down writers’ wages.

How Residuals Work – Writer’s Guild by yasmine_rivera

Amid the strike, the elongated time period between seasons allows streaming companies to strategize. However, productions that depend on current events and trends are facing serious repercussions as many have been forced to stop production. 

Various talk shows, including “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon,” have shut down. “Saturday Night Live” has also taken a temporary hiatus. Streaming serves as a looming threat to traditional television, but the fact that writers for traditional television are also striking displays a joint strife throughout the industry.

Several shows on streaming platforms have also announced plans to delay production. The Netflix show “Stranger Things” has postponed production for its fifth and final installment. The “Game of Thrones” prequel has also been halted with the franchise’s creator George R.R Martin offering his “complete and unequivocal support” towards the guild on his personal blog

Martin is a member of the Writers’ Guild of America, and is just one of many other celebrities who have supported the union. Talk show hosts Seth Meyers and Jimmy Fallon have personally compensated the writers on their shows. Additionally, the Screen Actors Guild has declared their support for the Writers’ Guild of America in a press release that called for a “achieve a fair and equitable contract.”

The film industry must recognize the solidarity between writers and performers and how it exemplifies the importance of the strike. With disruptions angering consumers, studio executives must realize that ignoring demands of the union is no longer in their best interest. Acknowledging that exploitation of their employees in favor of profit is an injustice, studio executives should also be more appreciative of the role writers play in their industry. Without writers’ work, there is no content.

Writers are at the root of the media we consume daily. They create worldwide entertainment that is impactful and influential. Thus, it is imperative that they are compensated accordingly.


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