Jul 19, 2023 - Economy

Striking numbers: Writers work less with streaming TV

Median weeks worked in <span style="background:#15a0ff; padding:3px 5px;color:white;border-radius:5px;">streaming</span> and </br>
<span style="background:#cabd86; padding:3px 5px;color:white;border-radius:5px;">network</span> TV by title, 2021-2022
Data: Writers Guild of America; Chart: Rahul Mukherjee/Axios

Streaming's dominance of television viewership means more writers are beholden to the fluctuating schedules and budgets that come with working for digital-first platforms.

Why it matters: Previously predictable streams of income are now harder to find, and writers and showrunners are often working for less, according to the Writers Guild of America, one of the two unions on strike against the studios.

State of play: Half of TV series writers now work for streaming projects, the WGA says.

  • Median weekly writer-producer pay has fallen 23% over the last decade, according to its data.
  • And median weekly pay for showrunners on streaming shows is 46% lower than for those who work on broadcast shows.

What's happening: For one, platforms, including Netflix, Max and Hulu, tend to commission shorter seasons, with episode counts less than half of what's usually made for a traditional television network series.

  • Streamers also have fluid release schedules, with companies like Netflix preferring to push an entire season online all at once, or producing shows with sometimes years-long gaps between seasons.

Meanwhile, on top of the smaller projects, writers are finding their traditional roles within them compartmentalized and diminished.

  • As outlined by Vox, streaming has increased the practice of "mini" writer rooms — featuring a smaller number of writers who are generally paid less than traditional writing rooms — to create episodes for shows before they are picked up for production.
  • The roles of writing and production — often combined — are also now being separated.

The impact: Curtailed writing time means less compensation, less job security and fewer opportunities for career advancement for television writers, the WGA argues.

The intrigue: Showrunners are an exception to this trend.

  • They tend to work nearly the same number of weeks in both streaming and network TV, reflecting the actual amount of time needed to complete a series regardless of platform.

The WGA is also fighting to change the way residuals, another previously reliable source of income for creatives on popular shows, are calculated for streaming shows.

The other side: The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers in May said it presented proposals including increases in compensation for writers as well as improvements in streaming residuals.

  • The AMPTP said at the time that the primary sticking points in negotiation were “mandatory staffing,” and “duration of employment” — "Guild proposals that would require a company to staff a show with a certain number of writers for a specified period of time, whether needed or not."

What we're watching: The studios appear to have no intention of giving in for several more months, Deadline has reported.

  • “I think we’re in for a long strike, and they’re going to let it bleed out,” one industry veteran, told Deadline.

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