Global Strike

Now that the writer's strike in Hollywood has been settled, content producers are contemplating the implications worldwide. It was long, it was bitter. It led to the cancellation of the Golden Globes and a good portion of

April 6, 2018

Now that the writer's strike in Hollywood has been settled, content producers are contemplating the implications worldwide.

It was long, it was bitter. It led to the cancellation of the Golden Globes and a good portion of the U.S. television season, while costing millions of dollars in lost wages and revenues. But the implications of the writers' strike are not confined to the United States.

Now that the first writers' strike to hit Hollywood in 20 years is over, it is time to assess the impact of one of the most bitter disputes in recent entertainment history. The last time the Writers Guild of America went on strike, the estimated economic cost to the industry was $500 million—a drop in the bucket compared with the costs, financial and otherwise, of the latest walkout.

The Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation estimated in the week before the strike's conclusion that the city's TV and film industries had lost around $650 million in wages, and that the wider economy had suffered a $1 billion loss.

These are frightening and depressing numbers. But they are not the whole story of the strike's impact. In the

same week the LAEDC published its economic assessment, the Super Bowl pushed Fox's prime-time viewing figures to an average of more than 33 million. In contrast, none of the three other major networks—ABC, CBS, and NBC—passed the 7 million mark, a stark contrast with 2007 when their averages against the Super Bowl were between 7.4 million and 11.4 million. Some speculate that numbers already in long-term decline for network television may have hit new lows from which they will struggle to recover—accelerating what many had already come to see as an inexorable process.

Benefits Abroad?

One thing is certain: The effects of the strike will not be confined to the American market alone. Non-U.S. companies stand to benefit, possibly at the cost of established U.S. content suppliers, although the extent and nature of these putative benefits is the subject of some debate.

Alex Mahon, managing director of Shine, the UK indie that recently bought Reveille Productions in the United States, says, "I believe that as a result of the writers' strike, UK companies now have genuine opportunities both in the U.S. and in other countries." Shine is currently in production with "Merlin," a reworking of the story of the legendary wizard at the court of King Arthur. "Merlin" is set to air on BBC1 beginning in fall 2008, and at the time of the interview, two weeks prior to the strike's settlement, Mahon reported that "ordinarily we would have been looking at a cable deal in the U.S., but there are currently talks under way exploring the possibility of a network as a direct result of the holes appearing in the schedules as a result of the strike."

Nor does she think that is the only way in which non-U.S. companies might benefit. "Networks such as Channel 4, which plays a lot of U.S.-scripted content will inevitably have gaps in their schedules as a result of the non-delivery of series that had been bought and penciled in, and we are already talking to them about possible replacements."

Mahon does have one word of caution on the subject: "One other likely consequence of the strike is that, now that it is over, series that were struggling along and might have lasted, say, one more season, will not be put back into production. I think the networks will cover these holes by commissioning more episodes of very successful series such as 'Grey's Anatomy' and 'Ugly Betty.' If that does happen, then networks like Channel 4 will be obliged to take all the episodes produced and this will mean a falling off in demand for non-U.S. material further down the road."

Jane Millichip, COO of the UK's RDF, is in broad agreement, although with one or two points of difference. "There cannot be much doubt that the writers' strike has created opportunities for non-U.S. companies, especially in prime time," she says. But in Millichip's view, these opportunities will be primarily for entertainment and factual entertainment. "Although," she adds, "there might be some opportunities for drama producers if the show is of a suitable scale of ambition, originality, and production."

Millichip also sees possible longer-term benefits arising from "working with the networks through this difficult time, which can only help to grow new relationships and strengthen existing ones." While she agrees with Mahon that there will be opportunities with non-U.S. broadcasters with slots to fill, she also believes that these opportunities will be fewer in the UK than elsewhere, "as UK terrestrials do not acquire much U.S. drama, and what they do buy tends to play late prime."

Coming somewhere between these two opinions is Greg Phillips, president of Fireworks International, a company specializing in North American drama. Although Phillips is adamant that the strike was never going to offer the short-term bonanza that some European producers had speculated it might, he believes the strike will come to be seen to have had some positive impact in the U.S. for non-U.S. companies. "For a start," he says, "I think the strike opened up the earlier stages of the selection process and some programming that, under normal circumstances, would never even have been considered, is being given the green light." And he also agrees with RDF's Millichip that some companies will enjoy a medium-to long-term benefit in that they will now have established themselves in the mind of network execs as a company that is on the roster of potential suppliers.

While Phillips also agrees that the strike will have created opportunities with networks outside the United States, he cautions that he doesn't think there will be an outbreak of panic buying. "Many non-U.S. broadcasters," he says "will have access to regular programming suppliers from outside the U.S. anyway, and will have large stocks of programming that they can bring forward. Some such opportunities will exist, but I think that it would be easy to overestimate them."

With the strike only recently ended, it is too early to tell exactly what the impact on non-U.S. companies will actually be. But it seems that the strike might serve to remind networks around the globe that non-U.S. producers also have plenty to bring to the table.

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