What You Should Know as a Media Consumer About the Writers’ Strike

Streaming services altered the industry. And now, the Writers Guild of America are on strike for the first time in about 15 years.

What You Should Know as a Media Consumer About the Writers’ Strike (Nathan DeFiesta via Unsplash)

My mom is the main breadwinner of our family, and it’s been that way for most of my life. But I remember there was a period of time when my mom stayed home with me everyday. As a 3-year-old toddler, I obviously had no clue what was going on, and thought it was awesome. I didn’t know what it meant for my mom, a TV show writer, to take part in the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike back then. But I definitely do now.

The WGA is a union of around 11,000 members. These people work on much of the media we have now. Whether it be movies, TV or podcasts, the great minds from the WGA are often where it starts. And they’re striking again for the first time since 2008.

Why is the WGA striking?

Some people have seen all of this coming for a while now. The WGA were negotiating with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) for about six weeks. The AMPTP represents about eight major studios: Amazon, Apple, Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery, NBC Universal, Netflix, Paramount and Sony. But after failing to come to an agreement, WGA leaders made a final call to strike.

The way many people consume media has changed drastically in the 15 or so years since the WGA last went to the picket lines. In a way, the root cause of this strike can be pinned on the rise of streaming services. For example, back then, cable TV shows typically aired 22-episode seasons. And the broadcast networks compensated writers every episode and gave individuals even more pay for episodes written solo. But that’s not how it works for a streaming platform.

A show created for a streaming service typically has less than 13 episodes. This cuts not only writers’ salaries nearly in half, but it also prevents them from attaining important writing credits for the rest of their career, as it limits the amount of chances writers have to write a solo episode.

On top of that, writers’ rooms have shrunk since the takeover of streaming — often called “mini rooms” nowadays.

Writers are also paid through something called residuals, meaning they are compensated for the reuse of their material. That can take form in reruns of TV shows. And when it comes to shows made for streaming platforms, reruns just aren’t a thing. So writers these days are often losing out even on extra pay.

What are the WGA’s demands?

The WGA are asking for higher pay, an increase in studios’ contributions to health and pension plans, as well as mandatory minimum hiring requirements for shows. This is so that more writers can get jobs.

What happened the last time the WGA went on strike?

The WGA’s last strike in 2007 to 2008 had a damaging effect on the film industry — effectively shutting down films and television for 100 days. This meant many seasons of shows were either delayed, canceled or reruns were played instead.

In fact, the famous character Hank Schrader from Breaking Bad was slated to be killed off in that season during the strike. But because of the strike, the writers thought more on it, and decided to keep his character. And around 2.1 billion dollars were lost in the Los Angeles economy because of the last strike.

Why should media consumers care about this?

It’s rare these days to find someone who doesn’t consume any media coming from the WGA. With writers at the picket lines, late night shows have immediately stopped production, instead airing reruns. For now, productions from streaming services won’t feel an immediate effect because they often have longer timelines.

But more than issues like hiatuses in shows, we as the media consumers should care because without writers, there is no way quality films and TV shows can be made. It is an essential organ to the film industry.

How can people help?

As a lover of film and TV, I stand with the writers who are striking for their survival. If you live in LA or New York City, you can join the WGA members at the picket lines.

How can you help if you don’t live there? You can spread the word. We, the consumers, are these studios’ most important assets. With our backing, the AMPTP may concede to the WGA, and give writers the proper pay they deserve.

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