Hollywood Writers Strike Settlement

A short-term win for creatives and a longer-term loss?

Television streaming video concept

News dropped yesterday morning that a settlement had been reached. While the writers have been touting a big victory, the details are still a bit murky. This morning’s episode of the NYT The Daily podcast, “Did Hollywood Writers Get Their Happy Ending?” provides some clarity. The transcript is not yet available.

Media reporter John Koblin is the guest and the interview is based on his report (with Brooks Barnes) “On Day 146, Screenwriters Reach Deal With Studios to End Their Strike.” In terms of the short term, not much has changed:

“We can say, with great pride, that this deal is exceptional — with meaningful gains and protections for writers in every sector of the membership,” the Writers Guild’s negotiating committee said in an email to members.

Conspicuously not doing a victory lap was the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of studios. “The W.G.A. and A.M.P.T.P. have reached a tentative agreement” was its only comment.

For an industry upended by the streaming revolution, which the pandemic sped up, the tentative accord represents a meaningful step toward stabilization.

But much of Hollywood will remain at a standstill: Tens of thousands of actors remain on strike, and no talks between the actors’ union, SAG-AFTRA, and the studios were scheduled.

The only productions that could restart in short order would be ones without actors, like the late-night shows hosted by Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert and daytime talk shows hosted by Drew Barrymore and Jennifer Hudson.

The upshot: In addition to actors, more than 100,000 behind-the-scenes workers (directors, camera operators, publicists, makeup artists, prop makers, set dressers, lighting technicians, hairstylists, cinematographers) in Los Angeles and New York will continue to stand idle, many with mounting financial hardship. California’s economy alone has lost more than $5 billion from the Hollywood shutdown, according to Gov. Gavin Newsom.

SAG-AFTRA has been on strike since July 14. Its demands exceed those of the Writers Guild and the studio alliance decided to prioritize talks with the Writers Guild, in part because of the hard line taken by Fran Drescher, the SAG-AFTRA’s leader. Among other things, the actors want 2 percent of the total revenue generated by streaming shows, something that studios have said is a nonstarter.

Even so, the deal with the Writers Guild could speed up negotiations with the actors’ union. Some of SAG-AFTRA’s concerns are similar to ones raised by the Writers Guild. Actors, for instance, worry that A.I. could be used to create digital replicas of their likenesses (or that performances could be digitally altered) without payment or approval.

What’s most interesting to me isn’t who won or who lost (although I’m naturally sympathetic to writers) but on the long-term impact on the industry. Koblin seems to think that it’s bad news for consumers and, ultimately, for the writers themselves.

Most obviously, studios are going to be paying more to writers, producers, and, eventually, actors. Naturally, they’ll attempt to pass those costs on to consumers in the form of yet higher prices for streaming subscriptions. This will hasten the extant trend toward consolidation.

Less obviously, Koblin believes studios will significantly cut back on production. There are simply too many shows being produced as it is and higher production costs will make them more selective. This is bad for writers—who will get paid more for the shows they work on but will find it harder to get work.

Clearly, the writers had more leverage here than I would have guessed. Granting that extrapolating from my own experience is dangerous, there are frankly already more shows available on the various streamers that I’d like to watch than I’ll likely ever get around to watching. If I spend 90 minutes a day watching scripted programming, it’s an exceptionally lazy day.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Entertainment, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. wr says:

    Studios were already cutting way back on production. It’s true that going forward they might try to blame it on the writers getting paid a little more, but that’s like an automaker jacking up the price of their cars and claiming it’s because the price of air conditioning knobs has gone up so much.

    And they could easily counteract any budget increases from the new deal by eliminating the levels of middle management — former executives who granted a lifeline by being handed “producer” positions — who do nothing except suck money out of budgets.

    But then of course studio execs would risk losing their own golden parachutes. And the ones who are actually working in development and production would have to start actually talking to writers again, instead of being able to chat with their own kind.

  2. MarkedMan says:

    During the strike I was wondering about different business models that cut the studios out of the picture and put more of the revenue into the creative hands. Didn’t hear anything about that, but I think the unions and other trade organizations should give that some thought.

  3. DrDaveT says:

    If I spend 90 minutes a day watching scripted programming, it’s an exceptionally lazy day.

    I’m curious which programming you watch that you think is un-scripted and non-performative. For example, I was mildly surprised to learn this morning that the journalists at NPR are under a SAG-AFTRA contract…

    Most obviously, studios are going to be paying more to writers, producers, and, eventually, actors. Naturally, they’ll attempt to pass those costs on to consumers in the form of yet higher prices for streaming subscriptions.

    I’m also curious why you say the studios will be paying more to writers and actors. I thought this deal wasn’t about increased pay, but rather about job protection — not being replaced by automation or non-union pseudowriters working for less. If that’s the case, it’s not that production costs will go up, but rather that they won’t go down. In that case, there is no increased cost to pass along — although as you note they have been selling at a loss in order to build demand, which will (of course) come back to bite them.

  4. James Joyner says:


    I’m curious which programming you watch that you think is un-scripted

    Live sporting events. Aside from college and pro football, I watch essentially no television. I’d watch more—there’s a lot of good content out there—but just don’t have the time or energy.

    I watch zero television, outside the rare crisis event, before 7:30 or 8 in the evening. We typically watch a show with the kids after dinner (30-60 minutes depending on what show we’re binging) and then maybe another show by ourselves after if we can stay awake long enough. Right now, it’s “Only Murders in the Building” and “Yellowstone.” That’s Sunday-Friday and gets pre-empted if there’s a game on I really want to see (generally speaking, a prime time Dallas Cowboys game or an Alabama playoff game).

  5. EddieInCA says:

    I think wr might disagree with me, but this deal wasn’t worth 5 months of negotiating. The finished deal (I’ve read the entire new deal) doesn’t go nearly far enough in protecting writers against AI, and the minimum staffing language is a joke, and it’s way too close to the 8/11 deal offered by the AMPTP.

    On the televisions side, this deal is very bad for up and coming writers, less bad for higher and upper-mid-level writer/producers, good for experienced Writer/Producers, and GREAT for the studios and streamers. There will be less shows produced, less jobs for writers and many less entry level jobs for new writers. The new agreement is heavily tilted towards writers that are also producers (people like WR, who can run a series). The mid level writers (Staff Writers, Story Editors, and Executive Story Editors) are going to get squeezed, because the minimum staffing formulas are heavily skewed to Sr. Writers/Producers. Additionally, the minimum staffing language allows Studios and Streamers to allow single Showrunners to write entire seasons with no additional writers, which the guild was, initially, was one of the biggest issues they wanted to solve. So Taylor Sheridan, Mike White, and the rest can continue writing their shows by themselves, as can any other showrunner who wants to write without a writing team or writer’s room.

    But my issue with this strike (and the SAG strike), more than any other issue, is that it was driven by people who have no real skin in the game. You have to join the WGA if you sell a script to a WGA signatory or if you write a script for a Signatory company as a “work for hire”. Most people who are in the WGA don’t make a living at it. I joined the WGA in 1996 when I wrote an episode of “Tales From the Crypt.” I’ve written a few other things over the years. None sold. I went “inactive” with the WGA in 1998 because writing wasn’t my focus. There are tens of thousands of writers like this; older writers who are in the WGA but haven’t sold anything in years, or younger writers who sold something recently, but aren’t on staff anywhere and and who don’t make a living at it Those are the people that drove the strike. I’m sorry, but if you don’t make enough in a calendar year to qualify for health insurance ($41,773-WGA, $26,237-SAG), you should not get a vote on whether to strike.

    Meanwhile, below the line crew are getting killed financially. A word of warning… I know for a fact that a whole lot of Teamsters and IA crew will never forgive the WGA membership for this strike. I know two teamsters who lost their homes already. If I was a writer who has now to to set on a regular basis, I’d be making a deal with a tire shop, because a whole lot of writers car’s tires are going to be slashed. It sucks. But that’s the reality of the anger and vitriol this strike has created. And it’s not going away anytime soon.

    For the record, I haven’t worked or gotten a paycheck since January. But one of the first things you learn about this business is to save your money, because too often you don’t know, literally, where your next job is coming from, or when.

    I’m glad it’s over, whatever it took.

  6. Kathy says:

    As to subscription feeds, I think we’ll see higher fees, but also lower fees for subscriptions with ads. I’ve read a few lines here and there that ad-supported subscriptions bring in more money from ads, than the higher fee ad-free subs.

    There are also a number of free ad-supported TV streamers, like Roku channel. I don’t think they have a large market share, but either they’ll play a part in the business, or fade away.

  7. Andy says:

    The way the TV and movie industry works is a black box to me. So it’s hard for me to have any kind of informed opinion, and appreciate the insider perspectives of wr and Eddie.

  8. EddieInCA says:


    ALL the streamers will soon have ad-supported tiers at lower prices. The ugly truth is that no streamers can make money on subscriptions alone. They just can’t. They’ve lost billions – all of them. Netflix claims to be profitable, but they’re still spending more than they’re taking in.

    The latest balance sheet data shows that Netflix had liabilities of US$8.68b due within a year, and liabilities of US$19.3b falling due after that. On the other hand, it had cash of US$8.58b and US$1.22b worth of receivables due within a year. So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$18.2b.

    That’s all been great in an environment of low interest rates. That debt is going to balloon if not paid down.

    So even “profitable” Netflix is carrying a debt load of $18.2B. Gotta love Wall Street.

  9. DrDaveT says:

    @EddieInCA: Thanks for providing these perspectives, Eddie. It helps the rest of us understand all the things the news media ought to be teaching us but aren’t.

    To pick on one particular point you made, it is a traditional failure mode of unions that they tend to represent only their current membership, or a subset of their current membership, rather than their industry or future workforce. Screwing over the yet-to-enter in order to get a little more now is common. Shrinking the workforce to benefit relatively senior current members is also common. It takes rare vision for union leaders to not only think ahead to the health of the future workforce, but also to sell that mission to the rank and file.

  10. wr says:

    @EddieInCA: “I know for a fact that a whole lot of Teamsters and IA crew will never forgive the WGA membership for this strike.”

    Well, with all due respect to these hard-working people, they’re morons. They’re like blue collar workers who desperately insist that Donald Trump is really on their side and is fighting for them.

    And frankly, anyone who insists that I work under a contract that is trying to destroy my livelihood just because they want to keep working should ask themselves if they’re going to give up their strike plans to keep me gainfully employed.

  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    Interesting. Like @Andy I don’t really understand the system. As an author as opposed to writer (in Hollywood, anywhere else I’m a writer) I instinctively sympathize with showrunners who want to write their own shows without half a dozen relative amateurs you have to manage and mentor and pander to. Especially in a world where you’re writing 8 eps, not 22 or 26. Not a fan of the Yellowstone universe but Sheridan is making a pile of money and giving a lot of people jobs. (Although maybe a writers room would have stopped him before he wrote that idiotic branding crap I’ve never been able to get past, or the words, ‘lightning yellow hair,’ which still makes me shudder.)

    I haven’t seen anything yet from AI that worries me about the book/IP end of things. AI drives using only a rear-view mirror, it can see what has been, it cannot yet see what needs to come next. Zero chance in a market dominated by Goosebumps that AI would have suggested a violent series about kids turning into animals and fighting aliens while discussing just war theory. But could AI write a lot of what’s out there? Could it write Jack Reacher? Or a Hallmark Christmas movie? Probably. Could it write The Wire or Better Call Saul or Peacemaker? Not even close. AI is a danger to mediocre writers, or perhaps to good writers forced to write mediocre shit to make a living. (Been there.)

    I did Patty Lin’s audiobook on her time as a TV writer and got about halfway before her insufferability and whining self-pity made me sympathize with the various shows she was fired from. I don’t know how talented she was in the TV sphere, but in her book she left no cliché behind. Tears are forever ‘springing to her eyes,’ FFS. At one point I was interested in writing for TV, now I see just how much better we book people have it.

  12. Kathy says:

    I’d like to see a rethink of the streaming model. For one thing, non-arc seasons should have far more than ten eps. Things like Strange New Worlds, for example, could easily do fifteen or 20 eps per season. Ditto Lower Decks. Both run a longish term arc, but secondary to the weekly non-arc season.

    For another, arc seasons should either be shorter or incorporate two arcs rather than one. But I seem to be alone in thinking many of these just spin their wheels, or go on tangents, while slooooooowly inching the story along, then swiftly ending it in the last ep.

    Also maybe for arc shows, producers and studios should be more adventurous, or less risk averse, and authorize at least two seasons rather than just one. I get the notion of “let’s see how this does before we commit to a second season, never mind a third.” But then the second season follows like 2 or 3 years later; see Loki or Invincible.

    There’s much I don’t know about the intricacies of TV productions. I know it’s not like cooking. Kathy’s First Law of Cooking: add a little seasoning to begin with and taste it. You can always add more, but you can’t take it out.

    TV is the reverse, if the contracts are well thought out. So Kathy’s First Law of TV would be: Commit to multiple seasons right at the start. You can always cancel the show, but you can’t hurry the second season along so it streams while people still remember having watched the first, much less what it was about.

  13. DrDaveT says:

    @James Joyner:

    Live sporting events.

    I would be curious to hear from Eddie or WR about the extent to which sports broadcasting employs writers. Certainly much of the pre-game and halftime discussions, and in-depth profiles of individual athletes, are scripted. I have no idea whether the people who do that, or who provide statistics and historical records and such to the commentary team, might be unionized, or which union they belong to.

  14. EddieInCA says:


    Understood completely, and I don’t disagree with you. BUT…. the reality is that the combination of the pandemic, and the double strike has made the studios and streamers look at the business very pragmatically.

    A little background before I get to my point…. A press release about noon yesterday announced that the strike was officially over as of 12.01am this morning. By four PM yesterday, my agent had four calls, asking about my availability. By 6pm, I was on the phone with two companies about 10 episode series orders for which the scripts are written, and they’re raring to go. One will be filmed in a US territory in the Caribbean, the other will film in Mexico. I speak Spanish fluently, so it makes sense I’d be contacted.

    Here’s where the results of the strike will come into play. Normally, these types of productions would crew 100% from the US. It would be a combo of LA crew, Atlanta crew, Texas crew, or Florida crew. Both of these shows are going to crew up 100% from the UK and Australia. Why? Because the IA Crew Union contract expires in 2024, and they don’t want to even take the chance of another work stoppage. These two strikes will cause lost jobs, sadly.

    I fully understand why the Writers went out, and I get why SAG/AFTRA went out, and I support them. Yet the reality is that the studios and streamers are thinking globally, while our unions are thinking domestically, as they should. But even more production is going to go to overseas. Hell, most people don’t know that Barbie, the biggest hit of the year, was shot entirely in the UK.

    People in my business never like to hear me say it, but the best crews I ever worked with were in Captown, South Africa, followed by Sydney, Australia, and London, England. Netflix, Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime were all outsourcing much more production to the UK, Canada, and Australia.
    Peacock, Hulu, and Paramount+ are following suit. It’s easy enough to find the information. Alot more production is moving overseas.

  15. MarkedMan says:


    I know for a fact that a whole lot of Teamsters and IA crew will never forgive the WGA membership for this strike.

    A f*cking Teamster is angry because someone else’s strike caused them hardship? That is too f*cking rich…

  16. MarkedMan says:


    So its liabilities outweigh the sum of its cash and (near-term) receivables by US$18.2b.

    I’m no expert, but that doesn’t strike me as odd for a company that has undergone a couple of decades of rapid expansion.

  17. EddieInCA says:


    There are very few unions involved in Sports broadcasting. In some cities (LA, Chicago, NY, Miami, etc) the crews are union under NABET or IBEW contracts. The writing is usually written by the talent. Bud Collins (Tennis) always wrote his own segments. Jim Nantz (Golf, NFL) writes his own segments. And there are others. But for some big broadcasts (The Masters, The US Open Tennis, The Super Bowl), they might hire writers to write the openings and special segments, but they’re fully non-union jobs, even if they’re WGA writers, because it’s not a WGA signatory company. It’s all non-union writing.

    Hope that answers.

  18. Kathy says:


    There’s a phrase I picked up from an aviation podcast years ago: chasing market share off a cliff. It meant offering fares and fees low enough to lure customers, and grow the route map and fleet as well, without much or any regard to cost and debt. It can work, or it can bust the company attempting it.

    This strikes me as what Netflix has done.

    Now, it’s likely they were able to make money when they rented DVDs, and on streaming when they were the only service available. Or maybe they were plain chasing market share off a cliff.

  19. EddieInCA says:



  20. MarkedMan says:

    From a 2017 report, just one tidbit:

    The Teamsters have a “union thug” reputation from their days under mafia influence, and over-the-line organizing tactics have continued into the modern era. Chicago-area Teamsters were given an injunction in 2013 for allegedly harassing mourners during a labor dispute with funeral homes.

  21. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “I did Patty Lin’s audiobook on her time as a TV writer and got about halfway before her insufferability and whining self-pity made me sympathize with the various shows she was fired from. ”

    I try to avoid books by former TV writers complaining about how terrible it all was and that’s why they had to quit. I think the worst is Jerry Stahl’s Permanent Midnight, in which the horrors of having to whore himself out to write on thirtysomething and Moonlighting made him into a junkie.

    For anyone who is interested in reading about both the good and bad of working in TV, I have to recommend Javier Grillo-Marxuach’s Shoot This One, in which he writes about the horrible cruelties inflicted by some showrunners and executives on people with less power — and then goes on to write about how this determined his entire philosophy of showrunning, in which kindness always comes first, and how he’s put it into use in his own career.

    By the way, I think I kind of fired Patty Lin once, although I never met or read her. When my then-partner and I took over Martial Law in its second season, the entire show was so toxic and star Sammo Hung so despised all the scripts that we chose not to invite any of them back, and I believe she was one of them. Having then spent a year on that show, I suspect she spent that whole season thanking me…

  22. wr says:

    @EddieInCA: That production was going to move overseas with or without the strike. I have no doubt that the studios will be quick to explain that they had to do it because of the writers, but that’s pretty much the same as the plantation owner telling the poor whites that it’s all those black folks’ fault that they’re poor.

  23. Paul L. says:

    I hope someone creates a studio that mainly uses AI writers and actors and becomes the next Disney.

  24. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Paul L.:
    I’m sure someone will fill your trough for you.

  25. anjin-san says:

    @Paul L.:

    I don’t think anyone is surprised that you would wish harm to people you don’t know who have not harmed you.

  26. Michael Reynolds says:

    She did describe Martial Law as soul-crushing, or words to that effect. A review I saw on-line neatly summarized her book, quoting Raylan Givens. You run into an asshole in the morning, you ran into an asshole. You run into assholes all day, you’re the asshole. Lin seems to have run into a lot of assholes, though she did like Paul Feig.

  27. Blue Galangal says:

    @EddieInCA: The first thing I thought of, reading about the crew makeup, is that those productions are being crewed from countries with much better worker protections (and national healthcare) than the US has.

    It really does feel like we’re circling a sad, lonely drain, defiantly shouting, “We’re the BAST!” (yes, the typo is on purpose…)

  28. Mister Bluster says:

    @DrDaveT:..I was mildly surprised to learn this morning that the journalists at NPR are under a SAG-AFTRA contract

    Point of information:
    I listen to NPR on a regular basis. News reports on Morning Edition and All Things Considered and other NPR news programs about the strike have noted that NPR journalists are SAG-AFTRA working under a separate contract from the strikers since the work stoppage began.

  29. steve says:

    MarkedMan- I was a member of 1099 in Philly. When we went on strike there was no thuggery. AFAICT, that has been pretty uncommon/rare. However, when it does happen it gets big time coverage. What does get scant coverage is the working conditions that the unions sometimes try to improve. I got stabbed partially due to those poor conditions. That didn’t make the papers.


  30. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Not exactly shocking the bots would want AI representation.

    But isn’t that woke?

  31. MarkedMan says:

    @steve: My impression of the teamsters will be forever biased by an early 2000’s occurrence. We were sending equipment to a trade show at Javits but something happened. Our Canadian branch in Montréal was able to cobble together the missing equipment and hired some local trucker to bring it down. He gets into queue at the center. After a while three big burley guys yanked his door open, dragged him out, cursing at him and told him to walk away. The truck and equipment were never seen again. It was made clear to him that he had no agreement with the Teamsters that allowed him to deliver and they decided to use him as an example to those who didn’t pay up. So yeah, f*ck the Teamsters.

    All my life I’ve heard about how now, this time, the Teamsters for really really real are no longer just an extension of the mob, but that ship has sailed for me. Even if it’s true I’ll never believe it.

  32. MarkedMan says:

    Some more stuff from the 2017 report above

    Prominent Teamsters continue to be implicated in corruption and fiscal malfeasance even after the consent decree. In July 2017, the president of Teamsters Joint Council 25, John Coli Sr., was charged by federal prosecutors with attempted extortion and taking prohibited payments for a scheme in which he threatened a business with work stoppages unless he was paid $25,000 every three months.74

    In 2016, the union’s Independent Investigations Officer recommended charges against four prominent Teamster officials: Hoffa’s Executive Assistant William C. Smith, International Vice President Rome Aloise, former Political Director Nicole Brener-Schmitz, and Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall.76 As recently as April 2017, Aloise was crowdfunding a legal defense fund.77 Teamsters for a Democratic Union and other opponents of Hoffa’s leadership have criticized the four for making concessions to employers allegedly in return for improper gifts.78

  33. Lounsbury says:

    @EddieInCA: “Wall Street” are not lenders. Wall Street is relevant for debt if there is both issuances, otherwise your knee-jerking should be relabelled to ‘Bankers”, a different set of people.
    However the mere fact of a debt load – like government in fact – does not make profitability into “profitability” Gross revenue suggests enough cash income to not be probablematic to service historical debt load at the interest rates prevailing before past year or so rate rises. How much they might need to roll-over requires reading, but regardless

    Netflix revenue for the quarter ending June 30, 2023 was $8.187B, a 2.72% increase year-over-year.
    Netflix revenue for the twelve months ending June 30, 2023 was $32.126B, a 3.53% increase year-over-year.
    Netflix annual revenue for 2022 was $31.616B, a 6.46% increase from 2021

    Netflix net income for the quarter ending June 30, 2023 was $1.488B, a 3.24% increase year-over-year.
    Netflix net income for the twelve months ending June 30, 2023 was $4.246B, a 16.66% decline year-over-year.
    Netflix annual net income for 2022 was $4.492B, a 12.2% decline from 2021.
    Netflix annual net income for 2021 was $5.116B, a 85.28% increase from 2020.
    Netflix annual net income for 2020 was $2.761B, a 47.91% increase from 2019.

    Current and historical current ratio for Netflix (NFLX) from 2010 to 2023. Current ratio can be defined as a liquidity ratio that measures a company’s ability to pay short-term obligations. Netflix current ratio for the three months ending June 30, 2023 was 1.33.

    Debt rather seems to be heavily long-term thus not currently sensitive to rates although expiries would need to be looked up for roll-over / refunding risk.

    In end merely quoting a big number does not indicate Netflex is not per se profitable (really any more than it does when same kind of thinking is applied to governments and one can substitute solvent for profitable). Funding via low cost debt is quite a rational and efficient strategy. Not to take a view on Netflix future nor financial situation in a rising rate environement, as that would require proper analysis, merely to point out fallacious quoting of large numbers.