Why TV is on Strike
Prolonged writer’s strikes are bad news for networks and TV shows. As production ceases, many workers miss out on work and lose money. Some productions will try to find non-union crew members to do the work. Others will stockpile completed programming for later airing. In the long term, a strike could cause production to halt altogether. But in the short term, the effects could be minimal.
The last writers’ strike in Hollywood affected the film and TV industries for more than a year. During that time, several TV shows went off the air. Many were shut down for weeks or months, while others ran out of scripts or had their seasons shortened. One of the more surprising outcomes of the strike was a boom in unscripted television. More than 100 unscripted series debuted or returned to the schedules during the 2007-2008 season.
It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that an extended strike might have a ripple effect across the country, affecting smaller projects in the short run and big budget projects in the long run. Depending on the studio and network involved, a prolonged strike could even alter the course of future feature films.
For instance, an extended strike would probably be impossible to avoid if the labor union representing writers (IATSE) wants to continue its negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, also known as AMPTP. This is because the two are negotiating with the same people. AMPTP is a collection of media giants worth trillions of dollars, including Disney, Fox, MGM, Sony, Universal, and NBC.
Another striking fact about the writer’s strike is that it ushered in a new era of streaming TV. Instead of viewing cable programs on HBO or Showtime, viewers can now watch content on streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu. There are more than 100 million subscribers to the former and more than 50 million to the latter. Streaming TV is a huge competitor to traditional broadcast television. With this in mind, the guilds have made some concessions to make the most of this new landscape.
A number of guilds have also started to draft plants that will allow production to continue on schedule during a strike. Even Netflix has begun to work around the strike, in partnership with Hulu. However, it’s likely that this won’t be the case for long.
Among the most jarring workplace issues are short breaks and unsustainable wages. IATSE is calling for better benefits, more hours between shifts, and financial penalties for meal breaks. Additionally, the union is demanding a new contract from the networks. That may sound like a lot of hoopla, but it’s a reasonable request given the ongoing turmoil in the film and television industry.
If the union can get a deal with AMPTP, the IATSE’s jumbo sized prize will be a new contract that provides a bigger pay bump for writers of streaming productions. Hopefully, a resolution will be in the cards before it’s too late.