Poll: WGA wins hearts; studios retain muscle

Study: Guild gets point across better

To read Variety‘s strike survey, click here

As the WGA strike begins its fourth week, the outcome of Hollywood’s first significant labor crisis in 20 years is anything but certain.

But one aspect of the walkout that is clear is that the scribes are, thus far, winning their case in the court of public opinion — even as many biz insiders predict the strike will ultimately be settled in a way that favors the major studios, according to a survey of nearly 1,000 Variety subscribers conducted by Frank N. Magid Associates.

More than two-thirds of survey respondents stated the Writers Guild of America is representing its side of the battle more forcefully and more clearly than the studios under the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers umbrella org. And more than two-thirds of respondents agreed that the scribes are being “more honest and forthright” than the majors in their discussion of the key issues, chiefly increased residuals for homevid sales and for digital distribution of movies and TV shows.

But while the writers may have broad industry support, survey respondents are mindful of the realpolitik of Hollywood. Survey found that 44% of respondents believe that the strike will be resolved “in favor of the companies,” while 37% feel it will be settled in a way that is “mostly fair” to both sides, and only 20% feel it will be resolved in the favor of the writers. What’s more, survey respondents predict dire consequences for the industry, particularly in the TV realm, if the strike continues past December.

As for the WGA’s decision to strike, more than half, or 54%, of respondents said that they believed the strike “was necessary at this time,” compared to 36% who disagreed and 10% who said they didn’t have enough information to answer, according to the online survey of 999 Variety subscribers conducted Nov. 16-21 to gauge industry perceptions of the strike.

Of the survey respondents, 15% identified themselves as WGA members, while 10% were SAG members, 9% were DGA and 7% were IATSE. The survey included a classification for “AMPTP” but did not receive enough responses in that category to be statistically valid.

Tactically a mistake?

When asked if they felt the strike was “tactically a mistake,” 57% of all respondents said no; 31% said yes and 12% said they didn’t know. And opinions of the strike tactic varied significantly according to union affiliation and job category.

Support for the WGA’s action is not surprisingly running very high among SAG member respondents, who face their own tough contract talks with AMPTP next year, but less so among DGA and IATSE members, who have been among those to feel the immediate effects of the WGA walkout.

Nearly half, or 47%, of the IATSE members who responded to the survey said that the strike was “tactically a mistake”; only 34% of DGA member respondents felt the strike has been a mistake, compared to 16% of WGA members and 15% of SAG members. On the broader question of whether the strike “was necessary,” regardless of timing, 61% of all respondents said yes; 29% said no and 10% said they didn’t have enough info to answer. Some 84% of WGA members said yes, compared to 78% of SAG members, 63% of DGA members and 49% of IATSE members.

Among respondents who work in the creative sector of the biz, 73% agreed that the “strike was necessary” at this time, compared to 45% of those who work in media (chiefly marketing and advertising) sector and only 30% of those who work in the financial sector.

On the question of which side was “representing their side more forcefully,” 67% of respondents cited the writers; 21% said it was equal between the writers and the companies; while 12% of respondents cited the companies.

Some 68% of respondents said the writers were repping their side “more clearly,” compared to the 20% who said it was equal among both sides and the 11% who said the companies. Asked “which side do you feel is being more honest and forthright,” 69% of respondents cited the writers; 16% said “neither”; 8% said the veracity level was equal on both sides; and 8% cited the companies.

Who prevails?

At the same time, more respondents believe the strike will ultimately be “resolved in favor of the companies” than the scribes, with 44% saying it will be resolved in companies’ favor, compared to 37% who think it will be settled in a way that is “mostly fair” to both sides and 20% saying it will be resolved in favor of the writers.

As for the length of the walkout, 30% of respondents believe the strike will continue for another four to eight weeks, while 22% believe it will go for another two to three months. Another 22% of respondents believe it will continue for another three to six months; 19% think it will last “less than another month; while 7% see it enduring for six months to a year.

On the issue of who was to blame for the job losses resulting from the strike for production staffers and below the line crew members, a majority (52%) of respondents pointed to the AMPTP, while 25% blamed the WGA and 16% said blame was shared equally by the guild and studios.

Variety subscribers generally fear that the strike will cause them some financial pain; 58% said they expect to face a financial loss as a result of the strike, while 38% predicted they’d see “no change” and 4% believe they will see a financial gain from the strike. Career-wise, however, readers see less of a long-term impact from the strike. Only 36% of respondents said they expect the strike to hurt their career, while 58% predict it will result in no change and 6% see their careers benefiting from the strike.

Hyphenates’ dilemma

There was greater division on the questions of whether hyphenate scribes should continue performing non-writing duties during the strike; 49% of respondents said yes, 45% said no and 6% said they didn’t know. On the issue of whether WGA members “are justified in taking financial core status” to continue writing during the strike (aka giving up guild privileges other than health and pension benefits), 41% of respondents said no; 40% said yes while 20% said they didn’t know.

On the subject of whether individuals should report strike-breaking activities, opinions varied widely. Among all respondents, 47% said individuals should report strike-breaking activities while 31% said no and 22% said they didn’t know. Among WGA member respondents, 65% said such activities should be reported; even more SAG members (68%) agreed, but only 50% of DGA members and 47% of IATSE members concurred.

Survey respondents also seem to think that non-pros are taking a dim view of showbiz’s labor-management strife. Fifty-seven percent of respondents said they believe the strike will give the general public a “less favorable” view of the entertainment industry, while 39% said there will be no change and only 4% said the strike will give non-pros are “more favorable” view of the biz.

The consensus is that the strike will have a much bigger impact on the general public’s TV watching habits than their movie-watching habits. Some 77% of respondents said the strike would result in the public watching less TV; 68% of respondents said the strike would cause no change in the public’s movie-watching habits “both at home and in theaters.”

Among other behavioral changes, 48% of respondents believe that if the strike lasts past December, viewers will watch more content online; and 32% of respondents believe that if the strike runs in to 2008, “scripted series will never regain the same foothold in broadcast TV.”

Blame game

Broken down by job categories, the survey results reveal intriguing divisions in the biz. For example, among respondents who said they work in the creative sector, 68% blame the AMPTP for job losses as a result of the strike, while 15% say blame is equal on both sides and 11% blame WGA. Among those who work in the financial sector, 45% blame WGA for job losses; 34% point the finger at the AMPTP and 14% say it’s equal.

Among WGA respondents, support is very high for the decision to go strike as well as the belief that the guild has been more “honest and forthright” in presenting the issues. But even among WGA member respondents, 42% believe that the strike will be resolved “in the favor of the companies,” while 36% believe it will be “mostly fair” to both sides and only 22% believe it will be resolved in the writers’ favor. Among DGA member respondents, 52% think the strike will be resolved in favor of the companies; 36% think it will be mostly fair. Among IATSE members, 49% believe it’ll end in the companies favor; 44% of SAG members also see it ending in the companies favor.

WGA member respondents generally concur with the opinions of all survey respondents on how much longer the strike will last. Twenty-seven percent of WGA respondents see the strike running another four to eight weeks; 25% think it will end in less than another month; 22% see it going another two to three months; 15% say it will continue for three to six months and 10% predict six months to a year.

To read Variety‘s strike survey, click here

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