One of the longest and broadest labor walkouts in the history of the U.S. entertainment industry has drawn to an amicable close after months of uncertainty. The 148-day strike by the Writers Guild of America (WGA) was settled in September, followed by the suspension of the 118-day strike by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). After the dust settles, Hollywood will have to contend with a changed environment that is influenced by changing audience dynamics, moral questions about technology, and a reevaluation of the value of entertainment.
There were many delays in production schedules and the postponement of a slew of feature films and scripted television programs, halting the industry. However, it managed to salvage its fall TV seasons on schedule, largely relying on reality shows and non-scripted programming. Notable shows like Abbott Elementary, Euphoria, and Stranger Things faced production halts, disrupting marketing plans and upending festival circuit appearances. Experts in the industry believe that the strike ending before the new year was incredibly important.
Hollywood had been cutting back on spending on streaming projects for years, even before this year’s strikes. There will likely be more content consolidation, which means fewer television programs. Screenwriter Michael Jamin, known for Just Shoot Me and King of the Hill, anticipates a contraction in the industry, asserting that the strikes may lead to fewer jobs but with better pay for those still working.
Concerns exist, nevertheless, regarding the financial strain on the sector. The founder and chief analyst of W Media Research, Karsten Weide, projects that Hollywood content will decline by 5 to 10% in the near future and that new content rates may drop by 50% over the next five years.
The recent agreements for authors and actors, which amount to profits of over $1 billion, have drawbacks for customers. The McDonough School of Business Adjunct Professor Steve Schiffman predicts movie ticket prices will rise as studios pass on post-strike costs to the public. Some streaming services, caught in a “death loop” wherein declining projects and growing costs could result in more subscription hikes, have already started to raise subscription prices.
Fears of job displacement due to technology were central to the strikes, leading to protections for workers against the use of artificial intelligence. The agreements include limits on AI use in TV writers’ rooms and broad protections on how companies can utilize digital reproductions.
Nonetheless, disagreements over “synthetic” performances made with generative AI continue to raise concerns. Ben Grossmann, the Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor, questions whether producers still need to negotiate with the union for such performances, which could indirectly impact union actors.
The new agreements include clauses for continuing talks about the effects of artificial intelligence between major studios and actors’ unions, a sign of the industry’s seismic shift. With at-home streaming transforming tech companies like Apple and Amazon into entertainment giants, the entertainment landscape is rapidly shifting.
Industry observers predict that significant changes will occur over the next three years, surpassing those of previous Hollywood strikes. With concerns over the relative financial sustainability of theatrical vs. streaming releases, the entire industry is in flux.
In the years to come, the ripple effects of Hollywood’s reboot following the strikes could completely reshape how entertainment is created, enjoyed, and valued.