WGA Strike: As Broadcast Fights For Survival, “Divided” AMPTP Could Face Splintering Over Conflicting Agendas

The industry’s shift to streaming has made for some strange bedfellows at the AMPTP, which could impact when and how a new agreement with the WGA is reached.

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For decades, the writers guild negotiated contracts with the film and television studios while the TV business slowly evolved and original series eventually expanded from broadcast to cable. In the big 2007 face-off that triggered a 100-day strike, the WGA was pursuing for — and was able to secure — jurisdiction over new media. At the time, streaming was in its infancy, with Netflix starting an SVOD business earlier that year and Hulu launching one week before the start of the writers strike.

By the time the next negotiation rolled around in March of 2011, a seismic change was afoot. Just five days before the WGA and AMPTP agreed on a new contract that year, Netflix entered the original programming arena in a big way, with a two-season order to House Of Cards.

RELATED: Deadline’s Full Strike Coverage

It would be another 10 years until Netflix — a tech startup gone Hollywood — officially joined AMPTP. The trade association’s makeup has changed dramatically over the past few years, with tech giants like Apple, Amazon, for which the money spent on film and TV production “is a rounding error,” as one industry source quipped, sitting at the table alongside traditional media companies like Disney, Paramount, Warner Bros. Discovery and NBCUniversal.

That makes this year’s negotiations, currently broken off with the WGA on strike, even more complex.

“That room may well be, I mean the AMPTP, more divided than it’s ever been because their interests are so much more diverse,” WGA Negotiating Committee co-chair Chris Keyser told Deadline on the first day of the work stoppage. “I don’t really know how much Netflix has in common with Paramount+ or NBCUniversal. Disney’s different also, and Amazon and Apple, so they’re going to have to work through all of that, and I think that’s going to play out interestingly.”

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Broadcast television, which took a big hit during the 2007-08 WGA strike that hastened its decline, once again was the first to feel the impact from the work stoppage. While streamers may not feel a pipeline pinch for months, for broadcast, the affect is instant; the moment the strike was called, the networks started losing money as late-night shows went dark.

Ad-supported networks draw most of their revenue from advertising, the bulk of which is secured during the upfront market that is slated to kick off with networks’ presentations this week. The upfronts will be disrupted by picketing, lack of talent, and most of all, lack of certainty whether the scripted portions of the fall schedules presented by the networks can be delivered if the strike continues for awhile.

Already struggling, broadcast may be hit too hard by the work stoppage to recover. That would make it collateral damage because ironically, broadcast is the one part of the business where writers rooms are mostly regular size, not mini, seasons can go to 22-24 episodes, making for a 44-week employment a year and allowing young writers to gain much needed producing experience by being on set when their episodes are filming. And, with all the cutbacks by the broadcast networks amid declining linear ratings, there is still a bigger chance of hitting the jackpot financially with a hit there than in streaming.

Of course, the major broadcast networks are part of media congloms that also own streamers, and streaming residuals are a big issue, along with the mini-rooms streamers employ ubiquitously. Nevertheless, traditional media companies are more vulnerable than tech giants-backed-streamers.

And the longer the strike goes, the deeper the divide between “old” and “new” media companies could get as the former get weakened to the latter’s competitive advantage. (NBC being impacted, for instance, also would automatically hit sibling streamer Peacock, which depends on NBC’s scripted programming.)

“We need to be careful to separate out what’s actually happening in broadcast networks, in many of the paid channels from what’s actually happening to streamers,” veteran showrunner and former WGAW President John Wells said on Deadline’s Strike Talk podcast, hosted by Billy Ray and Todd Garner, last week. “What I don’t understand is why the legacy companies and broadcast networks are prepared to take this issue on when it’s only benefiting their competitors, which are the streamers, we’re trying to push them out of business to begin with because they’re already carrying these costs and training the people. But then the streamers want to poach when they’ve actually gained all the experience necessary to run their own show.”

Given the fundamental changes in their businesses and the different degree of impact by the strike, it is unclear whether the AMPTP will stay united through the end of the negotiations.

Word is that there are no rules demanding that all studios negotiate as a monolithic group through AMPTP.

A couple of years ago, the Hollywood talent agencies started off the same way, negotiating with the WGA through their trade association, ATA, until individual agencies started breaking off and making their own deals with the guild.

It is that outcome that may keep the strange bedfellows at the AMPTP together. While speaking with Wells on Strike Talk, Garner offered his opinion why the legacy companies may stick with their tech-based rivals despite diverging interests.

“I think it’s because they’re worried as a collective that kind of what happened with the agents is that the most vulnerable of the legacy companies will fall first and then that precedent will be set,” he said. “And like when the writers went against the packaging fees of the agents, the smaller, more boutique agencies signed first that forced the hand of the bigger companies, so I believe that they believe, as a collective, the they’ll get more in the long run together than they would if they were negotiating individually.”

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