Viewers support writers, actors strike but not willing to pay higher subscription fees

With Hollywood writers and actors alike on strike together for the first time since the Kennedy Era, the whistle-stop pace of streaming content is suddenly being slowed. And according to recent research by Horizon Media, a majority of viewers are supportive of the strike but won’t back it in the event of higher subscription costs.

While the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) were scheduled to sit down Friday to discuss union demands, Horizon Media recently released "The Tipping Point," a survey conducted on July 18-19 with 600 respondents in the U.S., to gain a little insight on the audiences’ points of view.

To no major shock, consumers largely sided with the creatives (with 45% supporting writers and 39% supporting actors) over the Goliath conglomerate of studios, networks and streaming services — which only garnered a collective 26%. But that support slowed at the topic of rising streaming prices, where 28% of respondents indicated they would be willing to pay higher subscription costs to support union demands. While that number rose to 38% for those supporting the strikers and further for viewers 18-25 and 26-34 (46% and 41% respectively), the majority still fell to budgets unwilling to budge.

Horizon strike study July 2023
Consumers largely support writers and actors involved in the strike compared to studios, streaming servicces and networks.  (Horizon Media)

“If you compare the amount of people that are for the writers and actors… they’re not really willing to extend that support through paying [higher subscription costs]. They feel it's not on them to necessarily pay it forward,” Horizon SVP of Cultural Intelligence Maxine Gurevich explained to StreamTV Insider.

Horizon media strike chart 3
(Horizon Media)

And when asked what they would do if the strike were to drag on resulting in their favorite shows being unavailable, only 15% of respondents indicated they would cancel their streaming subscription. They did however indicate possible changes in subscription behavior. The alternative viewing habits varied quite a bit based on age, with people 35-49 showing more willingness to subscribe to new platforms, younger audiences 18-25 indicating interest in pausing subscriptions and shifting to social media content and people 50+ more likely to not alter any viewing habits.

Horizon strike graph 2 August 2023
(Horizon Media)


Gurevich said because these points reflect subscription shifts and even temporary cancellations, streaming services will need to focus on “meeting [viewers] where they’re at.”

What brands need to do

While the survey doesn’t reflect a severe interest in permanently cutting subscriptions, the possible migrations and pauses do warrant changes from services. Horizon advises that brands focus chiefly on highlighting strong existing content, optimizing recommendations and hubs and targeting younger audiences with serialized content on social media.

“Shows are really the main draw to a subscription service, rather than the brand itself,” Gurevich believes. “People also do find sometimes the quality of content to not be as reliable… there’s an overabundance of entertainment, but oftentimes the quality doesn’t meet the abundance, right?”

This is why she suggests “putting some spend behind older shows,” especially when rewatching old shows was the survey respondents’ top response overall (47%) in the event their favorite scripted shows were not available due to the strike.

These shows also need to be made easily discoverable through content hubs and strong recommendation algorithms — a sentiment shared by Horowitz Research — as consumers continue to struggle to find content in services’ oversaturated libraries.

Additionally, because the survey reflected a strong reliance on social media content in respondents 18-25, Horizon also highly recommends serializing content on social media platforms like TikTok, which has become their cable TV, according to Gurevich.

“A lot of networks might be surprised or don't really realize how ingenious content creators are with cutting content. These are the formats that they should be following. They can offer shorter content on these channels that bring them back and just remind them that the full episode is actually on the streaming service,” she concluded.