In a new post on its contract negotiation site, the Writers Guild of America outlined the impact that streaming has had on its members’ wages and says that it plans to “significantly address writer compensation” in the upcoming contract negotiation talks starting March 20.
“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 wrote. “On TV staffs, more writers are working at minimum regardless of experience, often for fewer weeks, or in mini-rooms, while showrunners are left without a writing staff to complete the season. And while series budgets have soared over the past decade, median writer-producer pay has fallen.”
“Driven in large part by the shift to streaming, writers are finding their work devalued in every part of the business,” the guild continued. “While company profits have remained high and spending on content has grown, writers are falling behind.
AMPTP declined to comment, as is customary for the studio representatives ahead of labor negotiations.
To prove its case, the Writers Guild compared the percentage of writers on episodic series that worked at MBA minimum rates during the 2013-14 TV season to 2021-22. Overall, the percentage of writers working at minimum rates has risen from 33% to 49%. Ninety-eight percent of staff writers and 95% of story editors are now being paid at minimum.
Even in higher positions, more writers are working at the lowest wages allowed by the current bargaining agreement. The percentage of co-producers working at minimums has surged from 10% in 2013-14 to a staggering 59% last TV season, and the percentage of showrunners has risen from 2% to 24% during that same eight-year period.
“In real dollar terms, median weekly writer-producer pay has declined 4% over the last decade. Adjusting for inflation, the decline is 23%. In addition to falling weekly pay, most writers on streaming shows are earning less per season because of shorter work periods,” the WGA wrote.
This drop in overscale pay and the effects of inflation have eaten into the gains the guild has made in recent years in terms of residuals, which reached an all-time high of $493.6 million in 2022 with 45% of that total coming from streaming, according to the Guild’s financial report.
The Guild also argues that the rise of streaming has harmed writer pay due to its shorter work periods for low-to-mid-position writers. While showrunners continue to work an average of 44 weeks on a streaming show, producer-level and staff-level writers are working an average of 20-22 weeks. If mini-rooms — writers room meetings before a project begins production or is even greenlit — are used, the number of weeks drops to 14.
On the comedy-variety front, which is expected to see a greater pivot to streaming as late night talk shows move onto the format in the coming years, the WGA called out studios for refusing to guarantee “minimums for scripts and weeklies” for writers on shows like “The Problem With Jon Stewart” and “The Amber Ruffin Show.” Including such streaming comedy-variety shows in the MBA protections has been included in the WGA’s pattern of demands.
“Under the current MBA, compensation for writers on streaming comedy-variety series is entirely negotiable. Unsurprisingly, the amounts paid to these streaming writers are often lower than those paid to their peers,” the Guild wrote.
The issue of compensation for streaming projects will be the core of the upcoming talks between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) starting next week. The current contract expires May 1, though both sides could agree to an extension if talks are not complete by then but are making progress.