As the writers’ strike enters its second month and the possibility of an actors’ strike looms, it’s time to ask: When – and how – should consumers get involved?
For example, should we consider canceling our subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Disney+, Apple TV+, Max, or any of the many other streaming services vying for our attention and money until the strike is over?
Would that be helpful? Or is that even possible in this streaming-addicted culture?
Many cable cutters are already dissatisfied with the supposedly economical alternative to expensive cable bundles. With complicated multi-platform deals and studios reclaiming content for their own streamers, keeping track of which series is airing where has become a full-time job. And even as creators like Netflix lose popular content, every year brings price increases.
Now the streamers have forced at least one strike and possibly another that will not only have detrimental long-term effects not only on the entertainment industry but also on the economy of every television producing city.
Including and especially Los Angeles.
Streaming platforms aren’t the only studios represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, but the writers’ walkout became public knowledge during the Netflix strike — and with good reason: most of the WGA’s demands and many of the concerns of the SAG-AFTRA , involve the business model of original content streaming platforms, where shorter seasons and lack of traditional leftovers have left many writers and actors struggling to make a living.
Writers also question the streamer-led “mini-rooms” model, where a small number of writers are hired to publish a series, a larger number to write it, and then almost all but the showrunner be released before the series series is actually made. Not only does this result in the elimination of staff positions, forcing many to be freelancers all the time, it also puts an enormous strain on showrunners and makes it impossible for young or less experienced writers to learn how television is made.
This can only result in the pool of writers willing to become showrunners shrinking, making the system not only unfair but also unsustainable.
Both guilds are opposed to other issues – most notably the use of AI – but most of their bones of contention boil down to the fact that streaming platforms have broken the traditional television business model, and now they must at least try to fix it.
First, by ensuring that the people who write what streamers sell are paid a fair and livable wage.
The demands of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA come as no surprise to anyone. In previous digital rights negotiations, the studios claimed they knew nothing about it; Now they claim to be poverty.
Streamers are largely not making money because, until recently, they were presenting content without ads.
That, of course, was one of their biggest selling points.
It’s hard to understand exactly how Netflix and company wanted to make money. The only reason television (or most media) exists is for advertising. Subscription fees may apply, but bills are paid by advertising. Sure, when Netflix started gobbling up shows from network libraries and offering consumers a world of television without annoying ads, it seemed like the eighth wonder of the modern world. But when House of Cards announced Netflix’s entry into the original script television business, things got tough. Streamers want the kind of content that takes audiences away from those bundles of cables, but as it turns out, they don’t want to pay for it.
What seemed like a blessing for writers and actors – so many new series! – was soon exposed as a scammer. Yes, more television was being produced than ever before, but it was being produced in a way that made the professional lives of writers and actors—even those on hugely successful series—more precarious, not less.
Nobody but the streamers themselves know what makes a successful streaming series. This is very handy if you want to avoid any final payment.
None of this happened suddenly; The AMPTP had years to negotiate a treaty that would address the issues and prevent any kind of strike.
Instead, they’ve chosen to appear shocked — shocked that the writers in particular have so many demands. Instead, they have decided to wrest every penny they can from the unfair compensation systems and now start a strike with no one being paid.
But it’s not just writers who lose income when production shuts down. It’s the crew, the costume and prop companies, the security guards, the caterers, the restaurants, the florists, the hotels, the trailer companies, the cafes — a losing cascade of businesses that depend on significant amounts of television and film production.
And the studios knew it, too.
The 2007–08 writers’ strike cost California 38,000 jobs and more than $2 billion. Since then, television production has spread across the country at a remarkable rate – Little Hollywood, Georgia is suffering, as are the many cities that have developed thriving production economies.
With striking writers and potential actors unable to advertise, Netflix, Disney, HBO, Sony and other studios have decided to do so Skip this year’s Comic-Con in San Diego, which for an event and a city just recovering from the pandemic will take a tremendous toll.
The prospect of so many summer films having to start without actors at public appearances may prompt the AMPTP to offer SAG-AFTRA an acceptable offer, but that does not mean that the authors, who have more and different demands, will get the same.
So at what point can and should consumers intervene?
The WGA has not called for boycotts of streamers: unlike, say, refusing to buy grapes or turning off the TV for a week, unsubscribing from a streamer is a longer-term decision — and every writer wants their show to be seen.
But Netflix and other streamers might want to consider consumer power, particularly in Los Angeles and other areas that will continue to be economically devastated if cast members decide to go on strike or if the writers’ strike continues throughout the summer.
As beneficiaries of the streaming invasion, consumers should perhaps be aware of their responsibilities – to those who wrote their favorite shows, but also to any cities now negatively impacted by the work stoppage.
The writers’ strike has already touched millions of people who have no control over the negotiations. Although studios have been able to prepare by scripting and relying on non-WGA content, such a cushion is not available to the thousands of industry professionals who are now out of work. Or to all ancillary operations that are affected by a large-scale production stop.
A streaming boycott is probably not the answer. It’s hard to imagine a significant number of people giving up Netflix, Apple TV+, or any of their favorite streamers. Failing platforms help nobody.
Still, a Netflix strike isn’t looking good, and with streamers already worried about finances, they should be able to reach an agreement with the guilds quickly. If not, how surprising would it be if, in the midst of a strike these streaming services have caused, some people concerned about the local economy start to think that the money spent on streaming services isn’t worth it?
Not surprising at all.