What you need to know about the tentative deal and the issues that still need to be addressed
After a 148-day work stoppage, members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) are finally ready to return to work after a deal with studios has been reached.
Since streaming services have come to prevalence over physical media, the payment structures for writers that worked for traditional movie and TV distribution have become outdated.
According to the WGA contract website, “Companies have leveraged the streaming transition to underpay writers, creating more precarious, lower-paid models for writers’ work.” Writing in Hollywood is a dream for a lot of people, but the sad reality is that “median weekly writer-producer pay has declined four per cent over the last decade. Adjusting for inflation, the decline is 23 per cent.”
The American legal drama Suits found major success on Netflix 12 years after its television debut, yet the writers of the show have seen almost none of the money from the influx of streaming views. The show became one of Netflix’s most watched titles, but one writer for the series revealed he made less than $300 in residuals for an episode during the show’s recent popularity.
Streaming has not only changed how much writers get paid, but also how many writers work on a project. While many TV shows used to have upwards of 20 episodes per season and up to a dozen staffed writers, it seems that streaming content favours eight-episode seasons with as few as three or four writers.
While streaming residuals were a major point of contention for the strike, the meteoric advancement of AI software was another hot-button issue. With tools like ChatGPT falling into the hands of the public (and studios), writers were left wondering if they would be replaced by AI.
The negotiated WGA contract sets precedents for the writing industry by regulating how AI tools can be used in content creation. It does not demonize AI, but rather stipulates that it should be a tool used by the writers to help the writing process. It should not be a tool for studios to lay off writers.
In July, the actors of Hollywood followed in the writers’ footsteps when the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFRA) also went on strike. This shutdown of the film and TV industry is estimated to have cost the Californian economy $3 billion dollars.
Deepfakes — superimposing one person’s face onto another actor — are becoming scarily accurate. Actors were not concerned with the writing ability of AI, but with the right to own their own appearance.
At the time of writing, SAG-AFTRA is in the midst of negotiations with studios. Netflix has already announced that they will be increasing membership prices after the strike ends. Performers in the video game industry are also prepared to strike for their own rights regarding AI in their industry.
Coinciding with the end of the WGA strike, a new unified voice for the streaming services called the Streaming Innovation Alliance (SIA) was unveiled.
Large players such as Netflix, HBO, Paramount, and Disney, as well as much smaller streaming services are all part of the new alliance. Industry giants Apple and Amazon are absent as of yet.
The goal of this alliance is to protect streaming services from laws that affect social media companies like Instagram and TikTok. Mignon Clyburn, one of SIA’s senior advisors, has made it clear that he believes the innovation that streaming services provide needs to be protected. He claims that policies that disrupt this innovation are detrimental to consumers.
The last writers’ strike happened back in 2007, lasting 100 days. Just like last time, countless productions have been affected, and many people have been left wondering if their favourite shows will be coming back at all.
While the WGA strike concluding is a step towards better regulations for writing jobs, the entertainment industry is still in a precarious situation surrounding the advancement of technology. On Oct. 3, Paramount uploaded the entirety of the movie Mean Girls onto TikTok as 23 separate videos for one day. While successful as a marketing stunt, this reckless use of technology in entertainment may be an omen of what is to come.