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Hollywood writers’ strike to trigger TV shutdowns

Hollywood film and television writers are set to strike, throwing Hollywood into turmoil as the entertainment business grapples with seismic changes triggered by the global streaming TV boom.

The Writers Guild of America has called its first work stoppage in 15 years after failing to reach an agreement for higher pay from studios such as Walt Disney Co and Netflix Inc.

“The companies’ behaviour has created a gig economy inside a union workforce, and their immovable stance in this negotiation has betrayed a commitment to further devaluing the profession of writing,” the WGA said in a statement on its website.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents Walt Disney Co, Netflix Inc and others, said late on Monday it had offered “generous increases in compensation” in negotiations with the Writers Guild of America.

The 11,500 members of the WGA had given union leaders the power to call a strike as early as Tuesday after their current contract expires, as the entertainment industry faces a tough economic backdrop.

Conglomerates are under pressure from Wall Street to make their streaming services profitable after investing billions of dollars on content to attract subscribers.

The last WGA strike, in 2007 and 2008, lasted 100 days.

The action cost the California economy an estimated $US2.1 billion ($3.2 billion) as productions shut down and out-of-work writers, actors and producers cut back spending.

Producers had indicated they were prepared to increase their offers of higher pay and residuals from a day earlier, the AMPTP statement said, but were “unwilling to do so because of the magnitude of other proposals still on the table that the Guild continues to insist upon”.

The primary sticking points, the group said, were proposals that “would require a company to staff a show with a certain number of writers for a specified period of time, whether needed or not”.

“The AMPTP is willing to engage in discussions with the WGA in an effort to break this logjam,” the statement said.

Studios are contending with declining television ad revenue, as traditional TV audiences shrink and advertisers go elsewhere, and the threat of a looming recession.

Writers say they have suffered financially during the streaming TV boom, in part due to shorter seasons and smaller residual payments.

They are seeking pay increases and changes to industry practices they say force them to work more for less money.

Half of TV series writers now work at minimum salary levels, compared with one-third in the 2013-14 season, according to guild statistics.

Median pay for scribes at the higher writer/producer level has fallen four per cent in the past decade.

Artificial intelligence is another issue at the bargaining table, with the guild seeking safeguards to prevent studios from using AI to generate new scripts from writers’ previous work.

Writers also want to ensure they are not asked to rewrite draft scripts created by AI.

If a strike is called, late-night shows such as The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and Saturday Night Live, are expected to immediately stop production.

Soap operas and other daytime shows such as The View will likely be disrupted but news programs would not be interrupted because those writers are members of a different union.

If the work stoppage becomes protracted, the networks will increasingly fill their programming lineups with unscripted reality shows, news magazines and reruns.

Netflix might be insulated from any immediate impact because of its global focus and access to production facilities outside of the US.

– AAP

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