WGA reports: The New Gatekeepers and Media Takeover

By Roger Paradiso

AFTER NEARLY FOUR MONTHS OF STRIKES BY THE WGA, with two months of solidarity shown by SAG-AFTRA and the Teamsters, picket lines still continue across the country with union members looking for more transparency around streaming, wage increases, and most importantly, the use of Artificial Intelligence in the industry. Photo by Bob Cooley


“The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses”
–Studio executive VIA Dominic Patten, Deadline

This strike has gotten nasty. Why? Because it is about survival. The stakes are that high. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) West issued a “Call to Action” on August 18.

“In numerous reports and policy filings –including a new report called The New Gatekeepers: How Disney, Amazon and Netflix Will Take Over Media–the WGA has documented the threat to our industry from past and future consolidation and called for more aggressive antitrust enforcement.

“Our current strike highlights the urgency of the issue; studios gained power through anti-competitive consolidation and vertical integration and then used that power to push down wages and impose more precarious working conditions for writers while profiting off of their work, and currently – together – refuse to bargain a fair contract for writers to mitigate those harms…”

“Make your voice heard about the harms of media consolidation,” the guild said in a message to members. “Share your thoughts on media consolidation with policymakers at the FTC and the DOJ!”
–David Robb, Deadline

The other side of the strike is the toll on the writers and actors who sacrifice their jobs in order to make their Union, and future members, healthy and sound financially. But in an industry of freelancers who work on daily or weekly contracts, it is always a rocky road to survival. The strike makes that road even rockier.

“I feel like I’m subsidizing this strike with my savings in a way that’s starting to get scary,” the 35-year-old writer said. She has cobbled together stopgap gigs: dog-walking, nannying, assisting someone with travel arrangements, filling out online surveys that pay “literal pennies.” She is relying on food assistance and living off savings that she had “squirreled away” over the last five years. She expects she can last on her cash reserves for six months before “fully tanking.”

“I wrote on an award-winning show last year,” she said, “and I’m literally picking up dogs** right now.”
–Anonymous quote, NBC News

“The companies have used the transition to streaming to cut writer pay and separate writing from production, worsening working conditions for series writers at all levels,” the WGA said in a bulletin March 14 titled “Writers Are Not Keeping Up.”
–NBC News Daniel Arkin

“We want more money,” he said. “We want enough money to make a basic living doing what we love.”
–Writer Raphael Bob-Waksberg

“I think we’re in for a long strike, and they’re going to let it bleed out,” said one industry veteran intimate with the POV of studio CEOs.
–Dominic Patten, Deadline

“These anonymous people are not speaking on behalf of the AMPTP or member companies, who are committed to reaching a deal and getting our industry back to work,” a spokesperson for the organization (the AMPTP) .
–Dominic Patten, Deadline

“Streaming video is now the dominant distribution platform for content,” the report says, “but it is largely unregulated, taking the problems of vertical integration and media consolidation to the extreme. Streaming’s dominant employers have used their leverage to erode the sustainability of writing work; further consolidation could result in fewer writers able to earn a living and diminished variety in the marketplace of ideas.”

The executive summary of the report, called “The New Gatekeepers: How Disney, Amazon, and Netflix Will Take Over Media,” contends that “Without intervention, these conglomerates will seize control of the media landscape and the streaming era’s advances for creativity and choice will be lost. These new gatekeepers have amassed market power through mergers and other anti-competitive practices, offering an alarming window into the future of media.”
According to the report:

Disney has grown through a series of multibillion-dollar acquisitions, using its power to reduce film output, shut down competing studios, foreclose independent content from its distribution networks, expand control of the labor market, and force creators to give up financial participation in future licensing revenue.
–David Robb, Deadline

“Streamers also have been criticized by actors and writers for not providing enough data to explain how they determine success. Writers are seeking a payment system that would reward them financially in the event that their shows were to succeed. The studios offered to share data on how many hours people watched programs on streaming services, Bloomberg first reported.

Also, the writers’ strike is shining a harsh light on labor tensions Netflix is facing in such countries as Korea, home of the popular series Squid Game. Korean artists, including actors and writers such as Squid Game creator Hwang Dong-hyuk, are pushing Netflix for more pay for creators—echoing demands of writers marching outside the company’s Sunset Boulevard offices.”
–LA Times Wendy Lee and Meg James

“As an actor, I believe 
my time and talent should be paid at a level that is fair, decent and livable.  I hope the outcome of this strike makes that happen. Actors need to be considered as a priority when budgeting projects, not as how little the project can get away with offering them. My contribution is equal and as valuable as all the parts needed to have a successful project made.”
—Siobhan Doyle-McKinley, Actor