The Creative Plateau: Why The Streamer Dilemma Broke The Entertainment Complex

In a time where writers and actors strike and executives enact cost-cutting plans, the world of Hollywood has never been more divided.
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It almost seemed like it was impossible to return to the old days. A global pandemic took the world in a storm and everyone resorted indoors to find solace. For some, revisiting classic shows like Friends and Family Matters was the go-to pastime. Thanks to the pandemic, the rise of branded streaming services allowed others to catch up with the latest from Marvel and Star Wars on Disney+.

However, since then, studios have been heavily reliant on maintaining streaming as a method of business. According to Nielsen, as of May, streaming services became the primary method for watching all things TV. In addition, according to the Motion Picture Associations’ 2021 report, streaming contributed to over ~$72 billion in industry revenue. More companies have taken this as an opportunity to not only attract more eyes, but to also hold more control over what they distribute.

And now, the entertainment industry has reached another standstill as more variables of interest begin to rise. The biggest one feeds within the developmental process itself: writers’ and actors’ way of work.

Streaming Services with Money - WGA Strike

Writers and actors are the foundational backbones of the entertainment industry. Without their dedication, the industry will inevitably collapse. As studio executives place lofty payout packages and streaming releases over the lives of the people who make it happen, all this has inevitably led to another, if not bigger, creative plateau.

With the entertainment world at stake, let’s take a look back at the causes behind the inevitable strikes, the events that led here since, and where everything is heading to next.

The Writer’s and Actor’s Strike

A good old-fashioned workers’ strike can wear down a business more than anything else. For Hollywood, multiple strikes across the board, from writers to actors and directors, puts a halt in production. However, unlike the 2007-08 WGA strike, those in the developmental process are facing new odds. New technological resources like OpenAI’s ChatGPT influenced an ease-of-creativity for studios who were (and presumably are) recovering from the pandemic.

In addition, the rise of branded streaming services has allowed studios to grow their portfolio, but at a cost. Though using streaming has gradually increased over time, companies have actually lost money on prioritizing this sector. According to IndieWire, at the end of 2022, Netflix and Hulu were the only ones to turn a profit over Disney+, Max, Paramount+, and Peacock. While it seems like the digital space could have been a great opportunity, that potential has slowly dissipated away.

The Impending Storm

Unable to turn a profit despite streaming’s viability, studios have resorted to cutbacks in certain areas in hopes to maintain sustainability. Unfortunately, this has resulted in fixed residuals for writers and actors being lowered despite budgets for streaming increasing up to 14%. To add on to this, the AMPTP’s new deal following their old contracts with the Writer’s Guild of America had refused most of the terms the WGA asked for. With all these elements in play, the WGA took full force to the streets in hopes to seek justice.

Since then, the WGA has been on strike for over two months, picketing over 20+ sets and corporate hubs all across America. So far, the strike has impacted over dozens of films and shows in production ranging from Blade to Thunderbolts and Cobra Kai to The Last of Us. However, the AMPTP hasn’t backed down either: they fired back with their own statement while attempting to find leeway with the circumstances. Not intimidated, the WGA continued to push forward in solidarity with other unions.

WGA Strike at Netflix

And now, we’ve reached the present day situation. As of writing, a few hours ago, SAG-AFTRA, the union responsible for Hollywood actors and actresses, has joined the fray in solidarity with the WGA. Additionally, the nominations for this year’s Emmys has been released, much to the anticipation of general audiences. However, with these strikes still occurring, the blowback to the AMPTP weighs heavier than any other strike has had.

Sadly, all these things can be traced back to the one thing that united all audiences alike: streaming services.

Streaming Services: All About Control

Branded streaming platforms were the primary method of distribution for studios during COVID-19, offering a saving grace when theaters were closed. During that time, subscription sign-ups peaked and you could access all the shows and films you loved. However, as the pandemic cooled down, society took to the outdoors once more.

Streaming services were still a viable option, though studios slowly made their way back to theaters. However, audiences were had now been trained to wait and receive thanks to Disney’s choices to have day-and-date releases for Soul, Luca, and Turning Red. Additionally, Universal’s choice to have shorter theatrical windows may have also influenced this way of thinking.

Pixar Day-To-Date releases, Soul, Turning Red, Luca

Studios exert greater control over content distribution on their branded platforms like Disney+ and Max compared to other streaming platforms like Netflix. They have the ability to remove or distribute exclusive content elsewhere, giving them a significant level of power in determining what gets seen and what doesn’t.

With this fact, studios have been often seen removing content on their platforms rather than keeping them. Recently, Disney removed 50+ shows including Willow, The Mysterious Benedict Society, and Y: The Last Man from Disney+ and Hulu. Following from that, Paramount+ removed 12 shows and movies including Star Trek: Prodigy and Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies.

However, the biggest, and most known, case of this comes from Max. Previously known as HBO Max, the platform removed over 80+ fan-favorite titles in 2022. Removing titles like Westworld, Final Space, Infinity Train, and more, the Zaslav-ran Max set a new. Though these removals may be financially beneficial for studios, it is creatively draining those who put their own passion into these projects.

As movies and shows get removed, studios have pulled streaming residuals in an attempt to recuperate their own losses. Cody Ziglar, the director behind She-Hulk‘s first Daredevil-featured episode, saw nearly $400 as a fixed, one-time residual for his episode. Meanwhile, Emma Myles, one of the actresses on Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black, received around $20 (in total) in her residuals. The accounts of low-paying residuals range in mere cents and as more gets shared, the more prominent this issue becomes.

With studios having full power over what gets and doesn’t get seen while maintaining a fixed pay for creatives, it dilutes the mutual trust that’s been maintained since and grown the 1960s strike. Streaming was supposed to be a resource to help creators drive their stories in a place where they could be financially supported. Unfortunately, it has had the opposite effect as branded streaming has slowly transformed into its own chopping block.

The Industry’s Future

So, you might be thinking now, “Can the AMPTP truly redeem itself with the WGA and SAG-AFTRA?” As of now, that case really seems unlikely. The AMPTP stands firm on integrating AI tech into film and TV production. Look no further for this case in Secret Invasion‘s AI-generated intro, which has been heavily criticized.

Meanwhile, the WGA continues to halt US productions for improved conditions through picketing. SAG-AFTRA has joined the cause alongside the WGA, which may force studios to find a compromise in the coming months. However, executives like Disney’s Bob Iger, whose contract was extended to 2026, believe that the strike is detrimental due to “the recovery from COVID which is ongoing, it’s not completely back.” With such statements and actions, it is unlikely that both sides may return to the negotiating table in the next few weeks.

Bob Iger - WGA/SAG-AFTRA Strike

As members of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA head to the streets, it’s also unlikely for general audiences and convention-goers to catch their favorite stars and writers. As part of their guidelines, SAG-AFTRA members won’t be able to do interviews, conventions and festivals, or premieres. Similarly, WGA’s guidelines state similar details: no conventions, no writing for studios, and never cross the picket line.

For conventions like San Diego Comic Con and TIFF, actors would be unable to cross the red carpet and participate in panels. Most studios, such as Marvel and HBO, have already pulled out from featuring in SDCC’s famed Hall H. In addition, several panels have already been canceled like Prime Video’s second season of Good Omens ahead of the strikes.

MCU's once planned Phase 5 slate

Unlike the WGA and SAG-AFTRA, the Director’s Guild of America came to a compromise with the AMPTP and will continue its duties. Furthermore, as the strikes are centralized in the US, local international unions remain unaffected. Because of this, shows like House of the Dragon have resumed production despite the strikes.

However, there have been some predictions laid out, ranging from early September to early October. With two of Hollywood’s biggest unions inevitably halting more productions, there may be an eventual compromise. Nonetheless, the world will have to see how events play out should the AMPTP realize new terms.

My Personal Thoughts

As an avid movie and TV lover, it really hurts to see how the executives behind the scenes are attempting to manipulate the system. Most of these executives, from Ted Sarandos to David Zaslav, make an incredible amount of money coupled with premium perks to keep them in. Over time, these amounts have grown egregiously to a point where it can pay for hundreds of creators.

Yet somehow, writers and actors get the end of the stick from streaming residuals despite putting in their work. I’ve seen over hundreds of shows and films, live-action and animated, and really love what these folks do. They have an emotional drive and dedication to create things that impact and resonate with thousands of people across the world. By taking away these integral pieces, we wouldn’t have these things that bring us closer together.

To the publicists who work hard to promote these works, I know you do your best to make these connections despite the buzz. You work day and night to build meaningful relationships between outlets and studios and we appreciate it even if it doesn’t seem like it. You might even be facing similar conditions. If you are, I hope that you can join the WGA and SAG-AFTRA in solidarity to make a positive change in the industry.

If there’s one thing to remember, it’s this: the only way to change is to break the system.

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Christopher Gallardo

Christopher Gallardo

Hi, my name's Chris and I write things at The Hollywood Handle. I like to write and learn about the animation world, play video games, and yes, go outside. A big Marvel, DC, and Star Wars fan/comic reader (indie too!) and occasional cinephile.
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