The crisis was brewing in the kingdom of cinema and entertainment. It's now a reality: Thousands of American TV and film writers will go on strike after failed talks with major studios and platforms - like Netflix or Disney - to raise their remuneration.
Board members of the powerful writers' union, Writers Guild of America (WGA), "acting under the authority bestowed upon them by their members, voted unanimously in favor of an appeal to the strike "which will take effect after midnight (9 a.m. Tuesday, Paris time), tweeted, Monday, May 1 in the evening the WGA. This strike is expected to result in the immediate hiatus of hit shows, such as late-night talk shows, and will significantly delay TV series and movies slated for release this year.
The last major social movement in Hollywood dates back to the writers' strike that paralyzed the American audiovisual industry in 2007-2008. This hundred-day conflict had cost the sector $2 billion.
Screenwriters are demanding higher pay and a bigger share of streaming profits, while studios say they need to cut costs due to economic pressures.
Wages that are stagnating or even falling
“Everyone has the impression that there is going to be a strike,” a Los Angeles-based television scriptwriter told Agence France-Presse on condition of anonymity. At stake is "an agreement that will determine how we are compensated" for streaming, both now and in the future, he added.
The screenwriters say they are struggling to make a living from their craft, with salaries stagnating or even falling due to inflation, while their employers are making profits and increasing the salaries of their executives. They believe that they have never been so numerous to work at the minimum wage set by the unions, while the television networks hire fewer people to write increasingly short series.
One of the main disagreements is over how screenwriters are paid for streaming series, which on platforms like Netflix often remain viewable for years after being written. For decades, screenwriters have collected "residual rights" for the reuse of their works, for example in TV reruns or DVD sales. This is either a percentage of the revenue earned by the studios for the film or show, or a fixed sum paid for each rerun of an episode.
The impact of artificial intelligence in question
With streaming, authors receive a fixed amount each year, even if their work is successful worldwide, such as the Bridgerton or Stranger Things series, seen by hundreds of millions of viewers around the world. The WGA, which defends the approximately 11,000 screenwriters in the country, is calling for the revaluation of these amounts, which are now "far too low in view of the massive international reuse" of these programs. She also wants to discuss the future impact of artificial intelligence on the screenwriting profession.
The studios, represented by the Alliance of Film and Television Producers (AMPTP), point out that the "residual rights" paid to screenwriters reached a record level of 494 million dollars (450 million euros approximately) in 2021, compared to 333 million ten years earlier, largely thanks to the explosion of screenwriting jobs linked to the increase in demand for streaming.
Having been spendthrift in recent years, when rival broadcasters have sought to boost subscriber numbers at all costs, the bosses say they are now under heavy pressure from investors to cut spending and make profits. And they deny pretexting economic difficulties to strengthen their position in negotiations with screenwriters.
"Do you think Disney would lay off 7,000 people for the fun of it? said a source close to AMPTP, which represents about 300 producers and major studios. According to her, "there's only one platform that's profitable right now, and that's Netflix." The movie industry "is also a very competitive industry."