The Writers Guild of America, now well into its fifth month on strike, said Friday it’s open to making deals with individual companies instead of the negotiating group representing all major TV and film producers.
In a note to its members, the WGA negotiating committee said it has been speaking with individual legacy studio executives who are open to “negotiate an agreement that adequately addresses writers’ issues.” They didn’t say which companies are receptive to solo deals but noted that “on every single issue we are asking for we have at least one legacy studio executive tell us they could accommodate us.”
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is negotiating with the WGA and represents everyone from Paramount/CBS, Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery to Apple, Amazon and Netflix. The WGA said “we have made it clear that we will negotiate with one or more of the major studios, outside the confines of the AMPTP, to establish the new WGA deal. There is no requirement that the companies negotiate through the AMPTP.”
Companies like Paramount/CBS, NBCUniversal and Warner Bros. Discovery rely far more on TV and film content created by WGA writers and SAG-AFTRA actors, who have been on strike for nearly two months, than Amazon and Apple, who really consider TV and film a side business. Those who own broadcast networks see a fall season packed with unscripted reality programs, game shows and repeats resulting in an even more rapid reduction in viewership in favor of streaming services.
Netflix, the biggest streamer, has a deeper pipeline of content than others to sustain a longer strike.
Warner Bros. Discovery in an SEC filing Tuesday said would the two strikes would negatively affect its 2023 earnings by up to $500 million.
“The studios and streamers bargaining together through the AMPTP have disparate business models and interests, as well as different histories and relationships with unions,” the WGA said. “Through the AMPTP, these legacy studios and streamers negotiate as a united front which allows hard liners to dictate the course of action for all the companies.”
AMPTP responded that its members are “aligned” and are “negotiating together to reach a resolution.” It said it had made progress on safeguards regarding artificial intelligence but acknowledged that it wasn’t as receptive to WGA’s efforts to create stronger guarantees on the size of writers rooms used to create most scripted TV shows.
The strike has ground most production to a halt in Georgia, with only reality shows and a handful of independent movies still happening. Thousands of people are out of work, scrambling to find other jobs to keep food on the table.
Writers say streaming has reduced residual payments they used to get from cable and broadcast repeats and with shorter seasons and smaller writers rooms, fewer opportunities to make steady income. And artificial intelligence threatens their entire livelihood.
Here is what the WGA sent its members Friday.
We know that people are anxious for information about the status of the negotiation – and how difficult it can be to stay strong during periods of silence – which is only exacerbated by the companies’ recent attempts to make an end run around the Negotiating Committee and confuse the narrative. What follows is an update on where we are and how we got here. We share things we have not shared up until now, including conversations with individual executives that illustrate how some of the companies can already see a path toward making a deal, while other members of the AMPTP are not there yet.
In the 130 days since the WGA strike began, the AMPTP has only offered one proposal to the WGA, on August 11th. Since then, the companies have not moved off that proposal, even though the WGA in turn presented our own counterproposal to the AMPTP on August 15th. The current standstill is not a sign of the companies’ power, but of AMPTP paralysis.
The studios and streamers bargaining together through the AMPTP have disparate business models and interests, as well as different histories and relationships with unions. They are competitors in all respects, except when they band together to deal with Hollywood labor. Through the AMPTP, these legacy studios and streamers negotiate as a united front which allows hard liners to dictate the course of action for all the companies. The AMPTP purports to represent all of these disparate corporate interests, but in practice administers a system that favors inflexibility over compromise, and sacrifices the interests of individual companies in reaching a deal. That regression to the hardest line has produced the first simultaneous strikes since 1960.
In contrast, during individual conversations with legacy studio executives in the weeks since SAG-AFTRA went on strike, we have heard both the desire and willingness to negotiate an agreement that adequately addresses writers’ issues. One executive said they had reviewed our proposals, and though they did not commit to a specific deal, said our proposals would not affect their company’s bottom line and that they recognized they must give more than usual to settle this negotiation. Another said they needed a deal badly. Those same executives – and others – have said they are willing to negotiate on proposals that the AMPTP has presented to the public as deal breakers. On every single issue we are asking for we have had at least one legacy studio executive tell us they could accommodate us.
So, while the intransigence of the AMPTP structure is impeding progress, these behind-the-scenes conversations demonstrate there is a fair deal to be made that addresses our issues. Given the outsized economic impact of the strikes on the legacy companies, their individual studio interest in making a deal isn’t surprising. Warner Bros. confirmed this in a public financial filing just this week.
We have made it clear that we will negotiate with one or more of the major studios, outside the confines of the AMPTP, to establish the new WGA deal. There is no requirement that the companies negotiate through the AMPTP. So, if the economic destabilization of their own companies isn’t enough to cause a studio or two or three to either assert their own self-interest inside the AMPTP, or to break away from the broken AMPTP model, perhaps Wall Street will finally make them do it.
Until there is a breakthrough, the companies and AMPTP will try to sow doubt and internal guild dissension. Keep your radar up. When the companies send messages through surrogates or the press about the unreasonableness of your guild leadership, take those messages as part of a bad-faith effort to influence negotiations and not as the objective truth.
The companies know the truth: they must negotiate if they want to end the strike. They may not like it – they may try to obscure it – but they know it. While they wrestle with that fact and with each other, they will continue attempting to get writers to settle for less than what we need and deserve, and encourage us to negotiate with ourselves. But we are not going to do that.
Instead, the companies inside the AMPTP who want a fair deal with writers must take control of the AMPTP process itself, or decide to make a deal separately. At that point, a resolution to the strike will be in reach.
We understand how painful this time is for everyone. We are all tired and hurting and scared. There is nothing wrong with saying so. The optimism for a return to negotiation has been met with a harsh reminder of how fraught this process can be. We share the frustration with how long the companies are prolonging the strike, and remain committed to negotiating a fair resolution as fast as possible.
In the meantime, as always, you can find your Negotiating Committee and Board and Council members out on the picket lines. When there is anything of significance to report, we will write again.
IN SOLIDARITY,WGA NEGOTIATING COMMITTEE