The dual Hollywood strikes: Where things stand now

    Both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA are om strike outside of Paramount Studios in Hollywood.

With no settlement in sight, the entire 2023-24 TV season for scripted shows could be wiped out

When SAG-AFTRA joined the WGA on the picket lines on July 12, the entire industry shut down and the thinking was, this would spur some kind of progress in ending both work stoppages.

But that hasn’t happened. In fact, there’s talk the dual strike could last into next year, if what SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher said is any indication.

The studios’ continued hard-line stance has been a bit stunning and puzzling. And so far, the losses racked up in the Southern California economy, a declining ad market, and bad publicity hasn’t deterred the AMPTP. Even though both unions are urging the studios to return to the bargaining table, they have shown no interest in doing so. And with no progress, we’re measuring months, not weeks in predicting when settlements can be reached. 

There’s no doubt the studios are demanding a new economic model in television as the industry is pivoting to streaming. With the exception of Netflix, all the studios are bleeding red ink on their streaming properties, but determined to make it work by any means necessary. For example, Peacock is expected to lose an estimated $3 billion alone for parent Comcast. But the losses aren’t deterring Hollywood or Wall Street, and their attitude is if we lose money and wind up doing what Bally Sports did and file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and upend the system, so be it. 

In an interview on Today Tuesday morning, Drescher said it could take as many as six months to reach a deal, at least for SAG-AFTRA: “We have financially prepared ourselves for the next six months. And we’re really in it to win it.”

As of this writing, the SAG-AFTRA strike is in its 20th day as the WGA strike is now in its 94th day – just six short of the one hundred days the guild was on strike during the 2007-08 season and only two short of the 1981 strike. The record for the longest work stoppages in Hollywood was 153 days for the 1988 WGA walkout and 77 days for the 1980 actors’ strike. The 2023 strikes are on pace to break both records and set new benchmarks. 

There is talk of California Gov. Gavin Newsom about intervening in the labor disputes, but so far there’s no indication he would. The Rev. Jesse Jackson – known for successfully mediating disputes – is also unlikely to intervene, given his poor health and current battles with Parkinson’s disease as Jackson recently stepped down as head of the RainbowPUSH coalition after more than five decades. Moreover, the studios would have to agree to any mediation, which they are unlikely to do at this current moment. 

So what now? 

If the dual strikes continues into next year – a scenario now not out of the whim of consideration, then the 2023-24 season could look dramatically different than we’re used to be seeing. Scripted shows might not return until the fall of 2024 – and right into the middle of a very contested Presidential election race. Losses would pile up as reality TV and reruns take over though the NFL and college football would likely soften the blow in the fourth quarter as sports – football in particular – is the highest rated programming around. But keep in mind…football players can’t play every night (spare me the “MACAction” crap on Tuesdays.)

The NBA created a play-in tournament for this fall, with games only on Tuesdays and Fridays so that could help, though it’s not yet known if ABC would televise any games. The Big Ten does have some Friday night football games scheduled this season, and NBC plans to air a few games on Saturday nights. 

Studios also acknowledge the decline of linear TV. Once the strikes end – if they ever end, Hollywood would have to look long and hard at the future of their industry. Is merging the answer? Maybe so, but we could see a lot of layoffs and like ABC, NBC and CBS – owned by Comcast and Paramount Global respectively, could put their local TV stations and other assets up for sale. Similar to what we saw with The CW, selling a majority stake to a broadcaster (i.e Nexstar) could happen. There is no doubt Hollywood would look at lot different and if Republicans take over Capitol Hill in 2025, most FCC regulations such as ownership limits would likely go away and mergers and acquisitions between companies would have an easier path though the Justice Department and the FTC would have a say – but the courts would be the ultimate decider as we saw with the Microsoft-Activision merger, which the FTC tried to block. 

How bad is this walkout? These strikes are running parallel to past baseball and hockey work stoppages. The 1994-95 MLB Strike lasted 232 days and took out the World Series, while the 2004-05 NHL lockout lasted 310 days – wiping out more than 1,200 games including the playoffs and Stanley Cup Finals. It took years for both to rebound in attendance and television ratings, and in some cities, it never did. The major networks never did regain audience from past strikes, as the 1988 WGA walkout sent more viewers to cable and home video choices, and the 2007 work stoppage sent even more viewers stampeding for the exits.  

Right now, it seems the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes would likely match at least one of the  infamous milestones set by MLB and the NHL.

I wish I had better news to tell you, but this is the reality we face. The business you knew in the 1980s and 1990s where studios basically printed money is gone forever. In the end, Hollywood is likely to resemble current radio and television ownership – dominated by a few key players (probably four or less) and offering far less for consumers – and those who are employed by these companies. 


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