Yesterday, TVWriter™ presented an article about the effect of cord cutting on standard TV distribution, and if you’re a cable or satellite exec you had to have been upset by what you read. Today, we’ve found another article, and while this one won’t exactly ease the pain of those favoring the status quo, it does give audiences and creators everywhere something to eagerly await.
(Another reason why the recent WGA-AMPTP negotiation was so important!)
Time Is On Our Side?
by Mike Gold
I had an interesting conversation last Sunday night with Glenn Hauman, ComicMix’s Empirical Wizard. He was giving me a lift from Martha Thomases’ place to Grand Central Terminal following a remarkably productive yet still highly entertaining staff meeting – a rare gathering indeed, as this time it did not involve fried chicken. Hey, every business has its own work ethic.
We were debating the machinations of the then-threatened Writers’ Guild strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Fortunately, the strike became unnecessary yesterday when the Guild and the AMPTP agreed on a new contract.
Overall, the business changed radically between this current action and the last one in 2007, which screwed up things pretty nicely. The media ain’t what it used to be back then, or last year, or even last week. There is so much production going on that in some cities arranging the services of a qualified production crew, equipment and sound stage space has become extraordinarily difficult. Usually, when operations such as Netflix or Amazon Prime acquire a series they shoot the whole season all at once. There’s no cancellation and subsequent halt in production, or even (necessarily) downtime between episodes. That’s very, very different from the way television shows were manufactured before February 1, 2013, the debut of House of Cards, the first high-profile direct-to-streaming dramatic series.
Growth and expansion increased exponentially. The Internet (which I continue to capitalize because I live in fear of it metastasizing), mobile computers, digital video recorders, streaming, live streaming… change keeps coming faster and faster, and whereas we are not certain what will be next we do know it’ll come to us within months.
What we have today is something I never dreamed of just a few decades ago: far more programs on television that I want to see than I’ll ever be able to get around to seeing. I’ll bet you feel the same way….
A report by MoffettNathanson found that the pay cable industry lost 762,000 subscribers in Q1 2017, the worst drop ever. To compare last year’s Q1 saw a mere 141,000 subscribers lost.
Analyst Craig Moffett said that the “Pay TV subscriber universe [shrank] at its worst ever annual rate of decline (-2.4%)” and there have been 6.5 million cord-cutter (and the new “cord-never” user who doesn’t install a Pay TV source at all) watchers since 2013.
What does this mean? First it’s clear that cord cutting his here to stay. Now that nearly every must-watch program is available via streaming and, in many cases, all at once via Netflix and other services there is even less impetus to channel surf, once the primary mode of TV discovery.
This means networks have to work harder to get their content in front of receptive audiences and it also means that services like Netflix and Hulu are truly taking a huge chunk of the TV entertainment market. Now that sports and international programming is headed to streaming we can only expect this trend to accelerate.
All of this churn is making the cable carriers restless. They are currently blaming retention offers for their inability to keep customers. Moffett, however, isn’t fooled….
“Whatever the cause, it seems naïve to suggest that we have seen the worst of the trend. Instead, this is almost certainly just the beginning,” Moffett told Multichannel, a news outlet covering TV and cable….
A succinct and, overall, quite fair report on the negotiation process in the 2017 WGA-AMPTP contract negotiations from one of H’wood’s favorite trade mags:
by Cynthia Littleton
The dam broke at about 10:30 p.m. on Monday night. With 90 minutes to go to the strike deadline, the WGA and major studios began to find their way to the compromises that had been elusive during the previous five days of contract negotiations.
By 12:15 a.m. Tuesday, after a break for caucusing, the sides returned to the big table at the Sherman Oaks headquarters of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to declare that the deal was done.
What tipped the scales? From the WGA’s perspective, it was the pressure of the ticking clock and the unquestionable demonstrations of unity among guild members to strike if the leadership didn’t feel like they were being offered a fair deal.
From the view of the AMPTP, the WGA’s strategy was one of brinksmanship. With the threat of a walkout hanging over the room, the WGA, led by chief negotiator David Young, used their leverage to successfully push the studios for incremental gains nearly to the last minute before settling. Young once again earned the admiration of many members for his steely resolve and confidence that the guild was on the right course, even if it meant a work stoppage, to secure justified gains for writers.
Sources close to the situation credited the AMPTP, led by president Carol Lombardini, with the tactical decision to not throw down the gauntlet of a last, best and final offer. The absence of such take-it-or-leave-it pressure allowed the sides to keep talking well into the night, a process that helped both camps move toward common ground. The desire to avoid the disruption and financial losses incurred a decade ago during the 100-day WGA strike from November 2007-February 2008 was also a motivating factor for both sides.
In the heat of the negotiations, sources on both sides of the table noted the leadership demonstrated by Christopher Keyser, who co-chaired the negotiating committee along with Billy Ray and Chip Johannessen. Keyser, a veteran showrunner who served as president of the WGA West from 2011-2015, is said to have made an eloquent final pitch for why the guild was pushing so hard for a codified family leave plan in the master WGA contract. He cited the hardship that job insecurity has on young writers in particular when starting a family. In the end, a source said the family leave agreement does not give TV writers paid time off but does guarantee for the first time that they will be able to return to a job after up to eight unpaid weeks off, as long as the series remains in production.
Sources close to the situation also credited the high level of engagement in the talks by top industry leaders — including CBS Corp. chairman Leslie Moonves, Warner Bros. chairman-CEO Kevin Tsujihara, Fox Networks Group’s Peter Rice and Disney/ABC TV’s Ben Sherwood – in providing the will for AMPTP negotiators to address the most pressing issues raised by the WGA. Throughout the talks, Lombardini with the support of the CEOs gradually met a significant number of the WGA’s most urgent demands in order to neuter them as strike-worthy issues. The studio chiefs weren’t thrilled about writing a big check — said to be about $90 million — to shore up the WGA’s over-taxed health plan, but they knew that was a central issue for writers at all levels that would have fueled strike sentiment had it been ignored….
LB’s NOTE: TVWriter™ has been getting a lot of email asking us – mostly in a more subtle way – what the big deal is about the result of the latest negotiation with the AMPTP and why are we, the members of the WGA, so thrilled about the result.
Good questions, for sure. And my good buddy Gerry Conway has some good answers, right here, right now (and also on his blog, where this short but perceptive reaction originally appeared just a few days ago):
Just got an email from the WGA negotiating committee, and for the first time since I became a member in 1978, I believe the Guild has achieved the impossible– we pushed back against the studios’ greed and intransigence without having to destroy or damage careers and livelihoods in the process.
I became a member at a time when union power in the United States was under assault by the growing countervailing power of mega corporations, and, after 1980, by the resurgent power of a growing anti-worker conservative political establishment. The 1980s was a traumatic time for the WGA, as a series of strikes forced by the studios’ refusal to negotiate fair terms for new media (and even, in the case of VHS sales, refusing to comply with deals they’d previously made) did serious damage to the careers of many writers, actors, directors and craftspeople – as well as to the lives of hundreds and thousands of supporting workers throughout the state. That decade left all the unions in Hollywood weakened and demoralized through much of the 1990s and well into the early 2000s. It took the rise of the internet and the apparent willingness of the studios to try to break Hollywood unions once and for all in the mid-2000s to finally bring writers back together again. The strength the Guild showed ten years ago, and the passion and determination of an idealistic younger generation of Guild members, is why the Guild was able to stare down the studios this year– and force them to blink.
I may be overly optimistic, but I see a parallel between the Guild’s victory over the studios this weekend and the victory of the Democrats over the Republicans in the budget battle, also this weekend.
In both cases the power to force their will upon a smaller, apparently weaker opponent seemed to be with the ruling establishment– the studios in one case, the Republican Congress and President in the other. Yet in the end the power was more apparent than real. Historical forces decide– in the 1980s, history was moving against unions, workers, and progressive politics. In the 2000s, history is moving against corporate economic dominance, wealthy elites, and conservatism. Despite momentary victories– weakening financial regulations, current electoral triumphs– the cultural order that’s held sway since Reagan’s election in 1980 is crumbling. That flush of victory Republicans perceived when Trump was elected may turn out to have been the flush of a breaking fever.
Congratulations to my brothers and sisters in the WGA. May ours be the first of many future victories for workers and unions and people-first policies yet to come.
Gerry Conway is one of the Kings of TV and film and comic book writing and also one of our Beloved Leader Larry Brody’s longest-lasting and closest friends. Everybody who comes to TVWriter™ should be reading his insightful blog, where this article first appeared. Learn more about Gerry HERE.