Sean Gunn Slams Streamers’ Lack of Viewership Transparency: ‘Why Is It a Good Thing for You Not to Reveal Numbers?’

The actor also tells TheWrap the “odd reason” he was given for why his picket line interview with THR was pulled from their socials

Getty Images

Actor Sean Gunn was surprised to find that a video interview he conducted from the picket line on Friday was removed from social media by THR, especially since the point he was making was that Netflix doesn’t pay residuals for the success of shows it doesn’t own, like Gunn’s “Gilmore Girls.”

In a tweet explaining the removal, The Hollywood Reporter said the video “did not note that the residuals Gunn was referencing are paid by the studio and not the streamer, Netflix.”

“The only sort of explanation I got for why it was taken down is that is that they said that my residuals aren’t paid by Netflix, they’re paid by Warner Brothers, the production company,” Gunn told TheWrap in an exclusive interview conducted on Sunday. “To me, that was a very odd reason to take it down because the whole point I was making was that we don’t get the residuals that we deserve from Netflix. There’s no participation in the success of the show. Because their numbers are hidden, because Netflix operates in total secrecy, we are totally unable to share when a show’s a big success.”

Gunn starred in 137 episodes of “Gilmore Girls” throughout its initial run on The WB (and later The CW). But the show’s success in recent years has been bolstered by its streaming availability on Netflix, just as shows like “The Office,” “Parks and Recreation” and “New Girl” amassed new fandoms once they hit streaming (NBCUniversal execs reportedly said in 2018 that Netflix told them “The Office” generated more views than anything else on Netflix at the time). But currently, there is no model in place for the actors on those shows to participate in that success the way a syndication deal on cable TV might.

“The old model used to be that when a show went into syndication, you get a little bit of money for all of the viewings, for all the revenue that’s pulled in, and that is totally changed,” Gunn explained. “We see such a small percentage of that. Instead, that money now goes to bonuses for those CEOs and studio heads, and I just think it’s shame.”

Netflix releases its own viewership data on a weekly basis for its top 10 performing titles, divided into movies and shows, but that data is still controlled and released by Netflix without third-party verification.

The “Guardians of the Galaxy” actor took aim at the streamers’ lack of transparency.

“The lack of transparency by those streamers is utter nonsense and is also unconscionable. You can rest assured that when a corporation is saying, ‘We’re keeping this information secret,’ it’s because they’re screwing somebody over,” Gunn said. “If I were a shareholder in Netflix I’d be real worried that Netflix is screwing me over. Why don’t I get to see those numbers? I’ve heard people who are close to that side of the negotiating table who have said, ‘Oh, at all costs they are never going to release those numbers.’ That’s what I want the press to be asking. Why is that a good thing for you to not reveal those numbers?”

Gunn compared the streamers’ lack of transparency to a book publisher refusing to reveal how many copies of a book they’ve sold.

“Can you imagine if I was a book publisher and I bought the rights to your book, and then you said, ‘Well, how many copies did I sell?’ and they said, ‘Well, I’m not gonna tell you how many copies you sold, we’re just going to maintain the rights to sell it,’” he continued. “It’s like, of course you should be nervous. Of course you should be afraid that you’re getting screwed over.”

When asked about Disney CEO Bob Iger’s assertion that the SAG-AFTRA and WGA demands are “unrealistic,” Gunn pushed back.

“I think that’s nonsense. Absolute nonsense. They’ve done numbers on this. We know that what we’re asking for in terms of equitably sharing in profits can be paid for out of what the top CEOs pay themselves in bonuses,” the actor said. “One of the reasons I was [picketing] at Netflix is that if ‘Gilmore Girls’ does 10 times as much business next year for Netflix as it did this year, I don’t see a dime of that. That goes into redoing the bathroom in Ted Sarandos’ yacht. It doesn’t go to me. So for them to say, ‘Well, hey, we don’t know how we’re gonna continue with this model,’ and then we see the bonuses that they give each other, it’s like, get over yourself. Just come back to the negotiating table, and treat us like grownups and let’s all tell the truth to one another and work this out.”

Gunn said he understands the business model has changed, but says actors are asking for a percentage not a flat rate.

“The studios and the CEOs, they keep crying poverty, which is just absurd. It’s been tricky for them to squeeze profits from the places that they were used to. They don’t have the cash cows of syndication and of the home video market that they used to,” Gunn said. “If profits are down a little bit, well that’s fine. Profits can be down. But we’re asking for percentages, we’re not asking for we’re not asking for a flat rate. The way that things are equitable is when we all share, and if profits are down, then profits will be down for us too as long as we have a fair piece of it. But you can’t say no, you don’t get any piece of it. That’s absurd.”

When it comes to AI, another sticking point of the negotiations, Gunn said he’d be in favor of signing deals that go up for independent review every year given the speed with which the technology changes “so that we can just make sure that we keep doing it fairly.”

The actor said the vibe on the first day of picketing was “passionate,” and added that he was happy to hear SAG-AFTRA chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland bring up the issue of scanning background actors and owning their likeness in perpetuity — which he said was in the proposal from the AMPTP — during the press conference announcing the strike.

“That’s something that anybody, even if you’re far away from the entertainment industry, anybody who lives in this country can understand reasonably that a human being should have rights over their own likeness, and that no one should ask to purchase the rights of your likeness in perpetuity forever,” he said. “No one should be asked to do that, and we should be really suspect of whoever is asking us to do that because that’s some evil s–t right there.”

For all of TheWrap’s strike coverage, click here.