Monday, April 10, 2017

Is allowing a strike in the middle of a bubble ever a good idea?

Sitcom veteran Ken Levine has an excellent (if not unbiased) post on the possible upcoming writer's strike. You should read the whole thing, but there's one particular aspect I want to focus on here.

As we have been saying for years, there is an increasingly obvious content bubble in scripted television programs. Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and the stunningly mismanaged Hulu get most of the attention (largely because they spend ungodly amounts of money on marketing and PR to garner that coverage), but the old-style cable channels may well be a bigger factor. Now everyone from MTV to the History Channel insist on getting in on the act regardless of how badly scripted shows might fit in with their format and programming strategy.

Even taking into account the growth in overseas markets, it is next to impossible to come up with a scenario where the audience size can continue to support the explosive growth in production costs. If content has already expanded past the point where the market can support it, we have a bubble, which would imply that the smart strategy is to extract as much money as quickly as possible. With that in mind, the studios may be playing a very dangerous game.

The AMPTP (producers) completely control the situation. If they feel it’s inconvenient or too costly for a strike they negotiate a fair contract and move on. If they feel there’s something they don’t wish to give up or they want to be punitive and it’s worth the disruption they’ll push us to a strike. So don’t kid yourself --

THEY orchestrate the strike not the WGA.

Likewise, during a strike, when they feel it’s gone on long enough they settle and everybody goes back to work. Usually, it’s not a table of twenty negotiators that hammer things out; it’s a back room with four people. For years, Lew Wasserman, the head of Universal was that guy.

Writers have less leverage than other guilds. That's a fact.  When actors or directors go on strike the industry immediately stops dead. When writers go on strike stockpiled scripts can still be shot.

Since we don’t have as much leverage we generally do get screwed more often. That too is just a fact.

The AMPTP has a lot to lose with a strike. They’re making $51 billion in profits these days. Way up from past years. That’s a pretty nice incentive to keep things going as is.

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