Photograph by Stephen Chernin—Getty
Stephen Chernin Getty Images
By Tom Huddleston Jr.
May 1, 2017

Major Hollywood studios are optimistic they can reach a last-minute deal with film and television writers in order to avoid a strike that could cost Hollywood billions of dollars and bring many TV shows to a temporary halt.

Negotiators for the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers reportedly ended their ongoing discussions on Sunday evening with guarded optimism that a deal could be reached between the two sides before a Monday night deadline, according to multiple reports citing sources close to the talks. Last week, an overwhelming majority of the WGA’s members (roughly 96%) voted in favor of a strike that would begin on May 2, the first day after their current contract expires.

If a deal is not reached before midnight Pacific Time on Monday, the guild’s more than 12,000 members would strike for the first time since a 100-day work stoppage in 2007-2008 that is estimated to have cost the California economy $2.1 billion and more than 37,000 lost jobs. The Hollywood Reporter estimates that a new strike could have a negative economic impact of roughly $200 million per week on the state.

The most notable gripe among Hollywood writers seems to be a consequence of the shifting television model, especially with the increase in streaming TV content. While the industry now churns out more than double the number of television series it did a decade ago, many newer series (especially those on streaming platforms or premium cable networks) consist of half as many episodes as they did in the past. Considering that writers get paid per episode, their salaries are taking a hit, even with the boom in scripted series. Movie writers are also struggling with the fact that the number of movies released by film studios annually has been on the decline.

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In short, the WGA is seeking better pay for TV and film writers as well as more money from studios for the guild’s health care plan. And, TV writers in particular are hoping that the industry can lighten up on contract exclusivity rules, which force many writers to only work for one TV show at a time.

If a deal cannot be reached, then the most immediate impact of a writers strike would be seen with shows like NBC’s Saturday Night Live and other late-night talk shows that rely on topical jokes from their writing staffs. As some have noted already, that immediate result could please President Trump, who is a frequent target of late-night jokes and impersonation. But another beneficiary could be streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon.

If writers do strike, streaming platforms would seem to have the upper hand, considering that they rely far less on topical programming and many streaming shows already have new seasons ready to go, or that are at least well past the writing stage. Meanwhile, Variety notes that some high-profile cable programs, including AMC’s The Walking Dead and FX’s American Horror Story anthology, are currently in production before airing over the summer and a strike could delay their new seasons. And, if a strike lasts more than a few weeks, the impact could end up being felt with TV shows whose new seasons were set to premiere in the networks’ fall and winter TV seasons.

Should networks’ TV lineups be significantly affected by a strike, more and more television viewers may end up turning to streaming media. During the last writers strike in Hollywood, Nielsen found that the previous work stoppage resulted in viewers turning to video games and DVDs amid a drop in TV viewership. So, today, an uptick in gaming and streaming media is a fair forecast. That potential outcome could be especially troubling for the major Hollywood studios that are already trying to combat the toll that the rise of streaming content (and cord-cutting) has taken on their traditional business models.

It’s possible that fear of another major disruption to their business could spur studios to push for a deal before tonight’s deadline, especially with the WGA’s members especially supportive of a strike.

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