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How Hollywood's timid recovery is harming the employment of screenwriters and crews

How Hollywood's timid recovery is harming the employment of screenwriters and crews


This year has been a tough one for the entertainment industry so far. Not just at the box office and on Wall Street, as we've covered in previous editions, but also for writers and crew members who have struggled to return to work.

A year after Hollywood screenwriters launched a six-month strike that effectively shut down the U.S. film and television industry, the people who keep Tinseltown running are still feeling anxious as they wait for a recovery which seems brutally slow to materialize.

My colleagues Christi Carras and Stacy Perman recently met with several writers of varying levels of experience covering film and television, a year after members of the Writers Guild of America left in search of higher salaries, improved residuals streaming and limitations on the use of artificial intelligence.

Everyone who spoke to the Times, many of whom did not want to jeopardize their future employment by speaking on the record, said they or people they know had struggled to find work for at least 12 months in a context of contraction which led to an unstable situation. production and employment levels across the sector.

We're not seeing this V-shaped recovery in writer employment, Patrick Adler, principal at Westwood Economics and Planning Associates, told my colleagues.

Production data for Los Angeles and beyond paints an ugly picture.

Film, television, commercial and other production activity in the first quarter of 2024 was 20.5% below the five-year average in the greater Los Angeles area, according to the nonprofit FilmLA. Globally, film and television production fell behind by around 7% in the first quarter of 2024, compared to the same period in 2023, according to tracking firm ProdPro.

In film, production delays have contributed to a thin film slate, with the box office down significantly from last year and representing an even steeper decline than before the COVID-19 era .

The economic downturn began long before screenwriters and members of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists went on strike. After years of overspending by entertainment giants hoping to catch up with Netflix in the streaming wars, the industry has adopted new austerity measures, slowing content spending and taking a more cautious approach to for the approval of new projects.

The so-called peak era of television, which released 599 original scripted series in a single year, is over, and the post-binge hangover still lingers, including among people who usually had a big success.

Ted Sullivan, who has earned credits on hit shows such as Riverdale and Star Trek: Discovery, told the Times that he hasn't worked in a real writers' room since the WGA strike began , marking a radical change from 14 years of constant employment.

I feel like I'm in the worst twilight zone ever, Sullivan said, where I wake up and I'm now 20 years old again writing spec scripts for free in my apartment.

All of this raises the question of whether the entertainment industry is simply feeling the pains of transitioning into a new era or whether it is in a state of controlled decline.

The company appears to be entering a period in which traditional media coexists alongside tech giants, including Netflix and Amazon. In some cases, traditional studios will still compete with streamers. In other cases, they will be suppliers selling their movies and shows to Netflix and its ilk.

It's notoriously difficult to break into the entertainment industry, and no one gets a full-time job writing scripts for television. People in this profession are used to spending unpredictable periods of time without work and planning accordingly.

But for those with the talent, perseverance, and luck to succeed, these union-protected jobs have always been a good way to make a living. Menial jobs have long been seen as a path to a middle-class life, despite the long hours and backbreaking work. These are the people who are currently being put to the test.

The heightened concern comes as the International Stage Employees Alliance, which advocates for the interests of film and television crew members, continues its negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Union negotiations for a new basic agreement with the studios ended last week without an agreement, but are expected to continue.

The IATSE contract expires July 31 and negotiations have been generally described as productive and knock on wood. The union does not plan to extend the deadline. Union priorities in negotiations include topics such as wages, pensions and health benefits, work-life balance and job security, as well as streaming residuals and artificial intelligence, a potentially serious threat to jobs.

According to anecdotal sources, there have been signs of recovery in production and other sectors of the industry in recent weeks. We hope that a more substantial recovery will take shape by next year.

But that's a long time to wait without income, and it remains to be seen how close things get to normal. If it turns out that the industry ends up becoming permanently smaller, more or less, then it will be difficult for some people to stay in the game.

Stuff we wrote

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Costumed character employees at Disneyland vote to unionize. Workers who play costumed characters in parks, parades or hotels have voted to unionize, citing issues such as wages and working conditions.

It's no longer TV Week because streamers dominate the upfront ads. In a week once dominated by ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, Amazon and Netflix are making their presence felt as they seek to secure a share of the initial $27 billion advertising market.

New York's studio construction boom poses a threat to Hollywood production in Los Angeles. New York is doubling down on its film and television efforts to compete with its main rival, Los Angeles, and capture a larger share of the Hollywood pie, even as the industry struggles to rebound.

Other news:

Number of the week

nine point six percent

Netflix, Max, and other big-name streaming services are getting a lot of attention.

But the open secret among data watchers is that YouTube has become one of the biggest threats to traditional media companies.

With a variety of free content, both professionally produced and user-generated, the San Bruno video giant has consistently accounted for more U.S. TV usage than any other streaming service, including Netflix , Amazon's Prime Video and NBCUniversal's Peacock, according to Nielsen data.

In a A stunning Nielsen chart, the data firm revealed that YouTube generated 9.6% of viewership on U.S. televisions during the month of April. That puts it second among all media companies, behind Walt Disney Co., which took an 11.5% market share.

Let's dwell on this statistic for a second. Disney offers ESPN, ABC, Disney+, Hulu and cable channels. And it still beats YouTube by just two percentage points.

As my colleague Wendy Lee wrote recently, Google-owned platforms claim that more than 150 million people in the United States watch YouTube on connected TV screens each month, citing data from December 2022. That's a increase of 11% compared to 2021.

Most of the time, people watch YouTube on a real TV, not on a laptop or phone. According to research firm Emarketer, U.S. adults spend 36 minutes each day watching YouTube, including 17 minutes on a connected TV, four minutes on a desktop or laptop computer and 15 minutes on a mobile device, Lee reported.

This means that people are starting to treat YouTube as if it were a regular TV channel.

A wide range of content attracts viewers to the platform. It has a host of popular creators, such as Mr. Beast, whose channel has 259 million subscribers. YouTube said TVs accounted for more than 50% of viewing time for the live stream of its Coachella music festival this year, which is higher than ever. Views of YouTube Shorts in response to TikTok on connected TVs more than doubled last year, the company said. Sports is also big business for the company, which offers the NFLs Sunday Ticket package.

The surge in interest in YouTube occurred during television networks' upfront presentations in New York, where media companies put on lavish shows to wow advertisers with their upcoming shows. This year's festivities focused heavily on streaming services, with Netflix and Amazon pulling out all the stops to boost their growing TV advertising businesses.

YouTube also wants to be seen as a destination for TV advertising, not just the online advertising market, where it already has a strong presence. LightSheds Rich Greenfield posted on (formerly Twitter) whose advertisers need to start shifting their spending budgets to the platform faster than they already do.

In the lead-up to May 15, YouTube held its Brandcast advertising event at Lincoln Center, where it showcased the breadth of its offering. Just another reminder that calling it TV week is increasingly anachronistic.

Film shoots

Filming for films, television and commercials in the Los Angeles area was still down last week compared to a year ago.

movie tracker

Finally …

Some recommendations: this Rolling Stones piece on Kid Rock is a crazy adventure. On a lighter note, people talk about this song created by a group of Irish primary school students, and it's actually quite good. At the Atlantic, Charlie Warzel explains the internet toilet theory.




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