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Striking writers try to exploit conflicts between studios and streamers

The Writers Guild of America said Friday that it’s open to deals with individual studios that want to ditch the group that has been negotiating on behalf of major legacy studios and Netflix and other streamers.

The Hollywood writers union also publicly called out studios and streaming services, which are being represented in the labor talks by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, for letting their internal disputes stand in the way of a deal. The screenwriters’ attempt to split studios and streamers amounted to a major tactical escalation as the strike, now 130 days old, drags on with little sign of a breakthrough.

Without naming names, union officials said that executives at major studios had indicated their demands were reasonable and that a deal was there to be had. In a statement several hours later, the AMPTP dismissed the WGA’s claims.

The WGA message came in a memo from the writers guild’s negotiating committee to union members.

“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,” the bargaining committee wrote. “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.”

Economic hardships mount as strike drags on

The last comment was a reference to a recent financial filing from Warner Bros. Discovery disclosing that the studio could lose $500 million this year as Hollywood’s strike drags on.

In response, the AMPTP said: “The AMPTP member companies are aligned and are negotiating together to reach a resolution. Any suggestion to the contrary is false. Every member company of the AMPTP wants a fair deal for writers and actors and an end to the strikes.”

Actors joined the writers on the picket lines in July — effectively shutting down Hollywood — and would have to negotiate a separate deal with the AMPTP even once the writers strike is resolved.

In many ways the WGA memo stated publicly what industry insiders have long been saying — that it makes little sense to have companies that are competitors and have different imperatives negotiating together. For example, studios like Warner Bros., Paramount/CBS and Sony are concerned about salvaging their fall seasons and getting major movies into theaters. Netflix, on the other hand, is not operating under any particular time constraint and is thought to have plenty of material to sustain viewer interest for months to come.

Meanwhile for Amazon and Apple, streaming is just a small part of their overall business. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post. Interim CEO Patty Stonesifer sits on Amazon’s board.)

Everyone’s losing the streaming wars

The AMPTP worked fairly well for decades as it brought together studios that shared the same model and similar interests. The rise of the streamers, however, threw a disruptive new element into the mix.

“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,” the WGA memo said.

The WGA’s move came two days after Warner Bros. disclosed that it was postponing some deals with major showrunners such as Mindy Kaling. That move was seen by writers as an attempt to divide them, which they said would not happen.

The writers union is seeking a number of commitments from studios and streamers in the current talks, including increased pay and guarantees about how many writers should be hired per show, and how long their period of employment might be. They are also seeking assurances related to the use of artificial intelligence, which both actors and writers fear could come to replace them over time.

The AMPTP accused the WGA of remaining “entrenched” on the issue of show staffing, and argued that it has already achieved substantial gains for members and “holds the power to move this negotiation forward.”

Writers have said they want to preserve TV and movie writing as a sustainable middle-class career in Hollywood, something they fear is becoming less and less possible in a chaotic media environment that has yet to settle into a stable form amid continued struggles over streaming.

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