After weeks of talks, earlier this week, the Writers Guild of America’s deadline for a new deal to avoid a strike came and went. Now the WGA has officially started to strike, leading to the first major strike since of the WGA since 2007. At issue here is how writers are paid for content on streaming services and how AI is used to write scripts. The last time there was a major writers’ strike was in 2007, and that strike lasted 100 days, delaying many fall TV shows that year.
Now though, there is the very real possibility that if this strike drags on it could help speed up the death of cable TV and accelerate cord cutting to new highs.
Part of the issue with streaming is the fact that most of the shows there are shorter than the ones that air on broadcast TV. A typical streaming show may only have 8 to 10 episodes. This means writers get less money for working on a streaming show vs a broadcast TV network show that may have 22 episodes.
Streaming shows can also have longer breaks between seasons meaning writers are left without work as they wait for the service to approve or start filming a new season. When you put this all together, the Writers Guild of America says the median salary of a streaming show writer is 46% of what they would make on a broadcast show. They are hoping to close that gap as streaming is becoming a bigger part of TV today.
A long strike could delay new shows on cable networks more than on streaming services. This raises a real possibility that cable TV may find itself without original programming, but streaming services like Netflix and Amazon are full of new content or at least new to them content.
Streaming services have often used production from outside the United States to fill their catalog. This strategy could help it resists an extended strike in a way that broadcast TV and cable networks can not.
Even if streaming services are unable to make new programming, their huge catalog of programs could help them stand out from cable TV networks that are stuck with the same small handful of reruns.
This imbalance in content could help drive millions of Americans who have been tempted to cut the cord to do so. What will happen when cable TV customers look at streaming full of new programs they haven’t seen but only see reruns on cable TV?
This raises real questions for Paramount, NBCUniversal, Disney, and more. Will they move content off their streaming services to their cable networks to help keep cable TV afloat? Or will they use the strike to promote their streaming services even more?
It will be very tempting for them to use the strike to grow their struggling streaming services that are still, for most of them, not profitable. An opportunity to push millions of unhappy cable TV customers to their streaming services may be a temptation some networks won’t be able to overlook.
The Writers Guild of America strike may end up helping to push the balance of power even further in favor of streaming services and weaken the position of cable TV companies across the country.