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Expand chart
Data: Axios research; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Dozens of media companies have unionized over the past 2 years in an effort to weather the turbulent economic environment for the content industry. Meanwhile, Hollywood writers are fight waging war with talent agents who, writers claim, are taking an unfair cut of their profits.

Why it matters: Content creators have become collateral damage in a power struggle between the media industry and technology-driven business disruptions. Now, the talent is trying to fight back. 

“In recent years content creators have turned to collective bargaining to ensure that they can build sustainable careers even as particular digital media companies contend with tricky business conditions. While some companies have turned to mergers and acquisitions to build scale, all companies face the challenges posed by big tech companies that siphon off advertising revenue. "
— Lowell Peterson, executive director, Writers Guild of America, East
  • Several digital companies unionized earlier. For example, Gawker Media’s employees voted to unionize in 2015, which opened the door for several other digital outlets to do the same like Vice Media and HuffPost.

Between the lines: The unionizing spree has extended to companies that represent creators. For example, podcast company Gimlet Media Group announced that a majority of employees signed union cards in March.

  • How it works: Unions typically give employees at companies more bargaining leverage during times of transition, whether that be during mass contract negotiations or layoffs. Newsrooms typically renew terms with their union every 2 or 3 years. National union organizations include the NewsGuild of New York and the Writers Guild of America, East and West.
  • Yes, but: Union representation doesn't always result in full employee protection, and representation does not mean all newsrooms have 100% unionized workers. Most outlets reported a majority of eligible employees signed union authorization cards.

The other coast: Hollywood is experiencing a similar talent uprising. After failing to reach an agreement over the weekend, the Writers Guild agreed to extend to Friday the deadline to renegotiate a decades-old agreement with Hollywood talent agencies.

  • If the Association of Talent Agents and the Writers Guild don't resolve the dispute, the Guild says that it will implement a new "code of conduct" that would allow members to fire their agents.
  • The heart of the dispute centers around the Guild's assertion that Hollywood's biggest talent agencies, like ICM, WME, CAA and UTA, are undercutting the writers they represent by moving from a long-standing percentage cut model to a model focused around packaging fees and production.
  • Many of these agencies have transitioned from strictly representing talent to becoming more involved in media production and distribution.

The bottom line: The media industry is facing unprecedented disruption, which is forcing the employment dynamics to change from decades-old precedents. Those transitions will come with pain points.

Go deeper

Updated 27 mins ago - Politics & Policy

First fatality confirmed in downtown Austin mass shooting

Police barricades near the scene of a shooting in Austin, Texas, on Saturday. Photo: Sergio Flores/Getty Images

A 25-year-old man died Sunday of injuries sustained in a mass shooting that wounded 13 other people in downtown Austin, Texas, the previous day, police confirmed.

Driving the news: Austin police named the victim as Douglas John Kantor, as they continued to search for one of two suspects. One suspect was taken into custody on Saturday following the shooting on 6th Street, a popular area with bars and restaurants.

Pelosi demands Barr and Sessions testify on data subpoenas

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during an event San Francisco, California, on Friday. Photo: Miikka Skaffari/Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told CNN Sunday that former Attorneys General William Barr and Jeff Sessions should testify before Congress on reports that the Trump-era Department of Justice seized Democrats' and journalists' data records.

Driving the news: DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced Friday an internal investigation into the matter, and Pelosi expressed disbelief to CNN's Dana Bash at assertions that neither Barr nor Sessions knew of probes into lawmakers.

Updated 3 hours ago - World

Netanyahu is out as new Israeli government survives confidence vote

Photo: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images

Israel has a new prime minister for the first time since 2009 after a power-sharing government led by Naftali Bennett survived a confidence vote on Sunday. Bennett was sworn in as prime minister.

Why it matters: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister and the man around whom Israeli politics have revolved for a decade, will now become opposition leader. Bennett, a right-wing former Netanyahu protege, will lead the most ideologically diverse government in Israeli history.