Television writers represented by the Writers Guild of America (WGA) are preparing to go on strike. Variety reported that 96 percent of WGA writers who participated in a poll on Monday voted to authorize a strike. The vote comes a day before the union was to resume negotiations on contracts with major networks represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The existing three-year contracts expire May 2, and that is when the strike could begin.

FX Networks and FX Productions CEO John Landgraf had coined the term “Peak TV” in 2015, according to Variety, and FX research revealed that by the end of last year there were 455 original scripted series across different media. The WGA pegs the number of union scripted series for last year at 301, up from 262 the year before. If so much television content is being produced, why are the writers striking?

The Writers' Demands

The heart of the grudge is money. The WGA contends that the six major companies–CBS Corp. (CBS), Comcast Corp. (CMCSA), Walt Disney (DIS), 21st Century Fox (FOXA), Time Warner (TWX), and Viacom (VIA)—which employ most of the union's writers have seen their profits almost double over the last decade, while compensation for writers has actually fallen.


The WGA claims that the average series is shorter today (10-13 episodes for so-called prestige TV versus 22-24 in the earlier age of the sitcom), cutting down earnings for writers even though they are bound by exclusive contracts for one year. Furthermore, episodes are longer, requiring more time to write each episode, while rate of pay is not based on the writer’s experience. The organization claims that all-in-all, median earnings for all writers decreased by 25 percent in the 2015-16 season compared to the 2013-14 season.

Further, earlier writers also earned through residuals that is every time the network played show reruns. However, with more networks licensing shows to video on demand and streaming services like Netflix (NFLX), Hulu and Amazon (AMZN) that has also gone down.

The New York Times reports that while there was some headway made between the sparring sides on the issue of higher payments, one roadblock remains firmly in place.

Healthcare and Pensions:

The writer’s pension fund is in big trouble. According to the WGA, despite a $5.1 million surplus for the fund last year, it had run steep deficits in the three years prior to that. Figures estimate, that the deficit would expand to $13.2 million this year and balloon to $65.5 million by 2020. The simple reason is that while contributions to the plan increased by close to 47% between 2011 and 2016, benefit pay uts rose by nearly 54 percent over the same period.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, while the studios proposed a plan to set aside some funds to bridge the deficit in lieu of increasing basic pay and sought premium increases from WGA to contain the problem, the WGA asked for a higher sum.

Strike Impact

A strike could potentially be a big blow for the television industry if history is anything to go by. The last time writers went on strike in 2007-08, the action lasted for 100 days and cost the Los Angeles economy $2.5 billion, according to the New York Times. In its statement, the AMPTP pegged the compensation loss to writers during that strike at $287 million. The Washington Post reported that many series like 30 Rock and Heroes had to cut short their seasons to cope with the writers walking out and Celebrity Apprentice was put on air. Nearly 20 years prior to the last strike, writers had decided not to work for 150 days.

If the script writers decide to strike, The Washington Post believes late night TV shows like Saturday Night Live, which has seen tremendous success this year, could suffer heavily. The New York Times report suggests that daytime soap operas that rely on writers churning out episodes every day could lose out big.

For viewers though, apart from some shows this strike may not mean much. It may just be time to catch up on shows they missed out on or haven’t gotten around to watching just yet.

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