Hollywood writers strike ends as WGA recommends deal with studios

Hollywood writers can return to work Wednesday after the Writers Guild of America voted to end to a months-long strike and recommended members approve a deal reached with studios earlier in the week.

TV and film writers represented by WGA, with over 11,500 members, have been on strike since May after negotiations failed, with actors joining in mid-July, bringing production to a standstill in the face of a work stoppage. Actors represented by SAG-AFTRA remain on strike.

On Sunday studios and major streamers including Amazon, Disney, Netflix, Paramount, Warner Bros. Discovery, and others, represented by the Alliance for Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) and the WGA struck a tentative agreement after 148 days on strike.

The WGA West and East divisions on Tuesday voted unanimously to recommend the agreement to members and authorized striking writers to return to work as of Wednesday. Now the deal goes to a vote by union members for ratification, taking place October 2 through October 9. While writers can go back to work in the meantime, they still need to vote to make a final decision on approval or rejection of the contract.

On Tuesday the WGA released details of the finalized three-year Memorandum of Agreement, which WGA said includes “gains and protections for members in every sector of the business.” The agreement looks to address some of the key issues writers had been pushing for including provisions for higher pay and streaming residuals, protections around the use of AI, as well as new terms for made-for streaming content and data sharing.

The agreement includes a 5% increase to minimum annual pay raises for most writers, followed by 4% and 3.5% increases over the three-year contract. It also adds new staffing minimums and length-of-work guarantees to writers’ rooms.

Provision for AI: Concerns over the use of generative AI in content production had been one of the concerns for Hollywood writers, and reportedly one of the final items the WGA and AMPTP worked on before finalizing their pact.

According to terms released by the WGA, regulations for the use of AI on projects covered by the contract include prohibiting AI from writing or rewriting material and won’t be considered source material, “meaning that AI-generated material can’t be used to undermine a writer’s credit or separated rights.”

A wrier can choose to use AI with consent of a company but the studio can’t require a writer to use AI software like ChatGPT. Companies must also disclose to writers if any materials provided have been AI-generated, while WGA said it reserves the right “to assert that exploitation of writers’ material to train AI is prohibited by MBA or other law.”

Streaming terms

The new pact also addresses terms for streaming, including an increase in foreign residuals, viewership-based streaming bonuses and sharing some streaming viewership data with the union and its members.

The agreement offers writers higher initial pay and residuals for feature-length projects that are made for streaming with a budget of $30 million or more.

And foreign residuals will now be based on the streaming services’ number of foreign subscribers. WGA said this amounts to a 76% increase, including a 2.5% base increase to foreign residual for the services with the largest global subscriber base over three years. According to a tentative agreement negotiations sheet released by WGA, Paramount+ and WBD’s Max will continue to pay a lower license-fee-based foreign streaming residual.

It also includes bonuses for popular TV shows and movies on streaming. The residual based on viewership means that high-budget made-for SVOD series and films that are watched by 20% or more of the service’s domestic subscribers in the first 90 days of release results in a bonus based on residuals, with “views” calculated by hours streamed domestically of the season or film divided by runtime. The bonus structure will take effect for projects as of January 1.

The AMPTP-represented companies also agreed to provide the guild with streaming data under a confidentiality agreement – giving more transparency around streaming performance, which writers had raised concerns over. The companies agreed to provide the total number of hours streamed, both domestically and internationally, of original content streaming programs to the WGA. The WGA is allowed to share the information with members in aggregate.

Additionally, the pact includes minimum terms for ad-supported streaming on-demand (AVOD), including free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST), which will get the same initial pay terms as equivalent programs made for SVODs. They’ll also get a 2% residual for reuse on the AVOD service.

WGA pegged the value of the deal that was finally negotiated at $233 million annually – whereas the union’s proposals as of May 1 were valued at $429 million per year versus AMPTP’s then-proposal estimated by WGA at $86 million per year.

Now eyes will be on SAG-AFTRA, representing actors who have been on strike since July.

“We remain on strike in our TV/Theatrical contract and continue to urge the studio and streamer CEOs and the AMPTP to return to the table and make the fair deal that our members deserve and demand,” the SAG-AFTRA union said in a statement earlier this week following WGA-AMPTP’s tentative deal announcement.   

As for viewers, data from Samba TV and Harris X found that consumer awareness of the strike is high, with 74% of adults saying they had heard of the strike. And most generations support it, including 4 in 5 Gen Z and millennials and two in three Gen X or older.  The squeeze on content hasn’t gone unnoticed either, with Samba reporting two-thirds of adults believe its likely that their favorite shows will be delayed or canceled due to the strike and the same amount believing it’s important if that happens.

It echoes earlier survey data from Horowitz Research. Released in August, Horowitz found consumers by and largely sided with writers and actors (76%) over studios, streaming services and networks in the strike, but support slowed in terms of consumers willingness to take on higher streaming fees to support union demands.