Wednesday, May 31, 2023 | Dhu al-Qaadah 10, 1444 H
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Hollywood writers strike over pay in streaming TV ‘gig economy’

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Thousands of film and television writers were headed to picket lines on Tuesday after union negotiators called a strike, sending Hollywood into turmoil and disrupting TV production as the industry wrestles with the shift to streaming.

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) said its leadership unanimously supported its first work stoppage in 15 years after failing to reach an agreement for higher pay from studios such as Walt Disney Co and Netflix Inc.

“The companies’ behaviour has created a gig economy inside a union workforce,” said the WGA, which represents roughly 11,500 writers.

The strike hits Hollywood studios at a difficult time. Conglomerates are under pressure from Wall Street to make their streaming services profitable after pumping billions of dollars into programming to attract subscribers.

The rise of streaming has led to declining television ad revenue, as traditional TV audiences shrink and advertisers go elsewhere. The threat of a recession in the world’s biggest economy also looms.

The last WGA strike in 2007 and 2008 lasted 100 days. The action cost the California economy an estimated $2.1 billion as productions shut down and out-of-work writers, actors and producers cut back spending.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents studios, said it had proposed “generous increases in compensation,” and was willing to increase its offer.

But it said it objected to WGA demands that “would require a company to staff a show with a certain number of writers for a specified period of time, whether needed or not.”

Writers say they have suffered in the streaming TV boom with shorter seasons and smaller residual payments.

“Wow. This is scary,” Emmy-winning writer Ashley Nicole Black wrote on Twitter after the strike was called. “But a future where we accept what the companies are trying to do — low paid, freelancer writing gigs with no job security — is much scarier.”

For TV viewers, the strike’s first impact will be seen on late-night talk shows such as “Jimmy Kimmel Live” that count on teams of writers to pen topical jokes for programs recorded on the day they are broadcast.

Those shows are expected to immediately start airing re-runs.

“The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert, in an episode taped just hours before the strike was called, showed pictures of his writing staff on screen in a gesture of support.

“They’re so important to our show,” said Colbert, who also is a WGA member. “I think that the writers’ demands are not unreasonable.” Other TV programming may be disrupted depending on how long the strike lasts.

Writers said they were willing to walk off the job because changes from streaming have made it difficult for many to earn a living in expensive cities such as New York and Los Angeles.

— Reuters

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