Those in the habit of surfing for the latest content from Hollywood may find their efforts frustrated in the weeks to come. The reason: thousands of film and television writers who keep Hollywood fed with the lines that can make or break a movie or a show have struck work. They demand a higher recompense for their efforts, and are angry at efforts by major studios to increasingly use freelancers instead of regular writers to churn out content. In the line of fire are traditional studios such as Universal, Paramount and Walt Disney, as well as relevant newcomers to the content creation industry such as Netflix, Amazon and Apple.
The writers, often considered the backbone of Hollywood, say they face an existential threat. The Writers Guild of America, which has nearly 12,000 members, said they had talked to production companies for the past six weeks but had made no headway. This had forced them to stop work, and take to the streets shouting slogans such as “Fist up, pens down. LA is a union town.” The last such industrial action had taken place in 2007 and was estimated to have cost the state of California nearly $2 billion. The writers contend that their demands will involve an additional expenditure for studios of about $500 million annually, far lower than the billions they made each year, and less than the cost of a single show such as Game of Thrones or Citadel.
At the heart of the dispute is what the writers term an effort to turn their craft into a “gig economy”, by using freelancers instead of those on the staff, and the need to raise professional standards. The strike will hit all segments of the entertainment industry, with the first impacts felt by nightly talk shows that rely on the content developed by writers. But in coming weeks, experts warn that viewers will have to prepare for their favourite shows to be delayed, and eventually for a day when very little new content may be available for viewing. The writers’ demands cover features, episodic shows, streaming content and foreign content, in other words all segments of the entertainment industry.
The elephant in the room, though, may be one demand on which studios are said to be unbending. The writers have demanded a regulation of content generated by Artificial Intelligence, in other words restrictions on using AI to write or rewrite literary material, or for it to use human-developed content as source material.
The studios have rejected the demand, and instead offered annual meetings to discuss the impact of technology on content, which is neither here nor there. As viewers waiting for the next season of popular shows brace for delays, analysts say there may be a silver living. After the last such strike, there was a marked improvement in the quality of fare on offer.