Writer's strike may take the chill out of binge-watching Netflix

Talk of potential writer's strike is making the rounds in Hollywood

Your favorite streaming series, primetime dramas and cable comedies may be at risk as 2020 looms on the horizon.

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The contract between the Writer’s Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers expires in five months. But according to Deadline, no talks have been scheduled and some television studios are preparing for a writer’s walkout. “Everyone, apparently, that employs us, is convinced there’s going to be a strike, and they are acting accordingly,’" former Guild vice presidential candidate and Emmy-winning writer (HBO’s “Chernobyl") Craig Mazin said on the screenwriting podcast, Scriptnotes.

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In 1988, when the Guild went on strike for 22 weeks – the longest in the union's history – producers dusted off scripts from long-canceled series such as “Mission Impossible,” which was shot in Australia. Other networks turned to news divisions to create series such as “48 Hours” or tried reality shows such as “Cops.”

A strike could have a big impact on network television, which is already suffering from increased competition and declining viewership. Consider that last season, five broadcast networks averaged 28.5 million viewers in primetime, a decline of 7.3 million viewers or a 20 percent drop since the 2014-15 season. Lower viewership translates to lower advertising revenue.

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While more and more consumers are connecting to new streaming services such as AppleTV+, Disney+ or the upcoming HBOMax, they would be vulnerable to a Guild strike as well. All of the services -- as well as streaming kingpin Netflix – are spending wildly on original content, i.e., writers and scripts.

"We have been moving increasingly to original content both because of the anticipated pullback of second-run content from some studios and because our original content is working in the form of member viewing and engagement," Netflix wrote in its most recent quarterly earnings statement.

A strike, without original content, could test the staying power of consumers with streaming services. Dropping services for an extended period of time could hurt the revenue projections for businesses new and old.

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But in the podcast, Mazin contends a strike is anything but a foregone conclusion. “I think we would much rather prefer, as per usual, to get a deal that follows the pattern of the (Director’s Guild), but addresses certain writer-specific things that we need to have addressed."

The Guild last went on strike in 2007-08 – a strike that lasted 100 days and savaged California's economy. According to a report from The Milken Institute, the strike facilitated a “loss of 37,700 jobs and $2.1 billion in lost output from the fourth quarter of 2007 through the end of 2008."

The report, published in 2008, estimated total personal income and total wages and salaries would decline by $3.1 billion and $2.3 billion, respectively.

With several states – such as Georgia, Louisiana and New York – now heavily involved in film and TV production, a strike would likely cause even broader harm.

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