The Writers Guild of America continued on Tuesday to frame its arguments in advance of bargaining, putting out a report that maintains that writers are “falling behind” in the streaming economy.
The report follows another memo to members last Friday, which argued that entertainment companies remain highly profitable overall, despite incurring heavy losses on their streaming platforms.
The latest report focuses on industry trends toward shorter TV seasons, which the guild says has depressed writers’ wages. Compared to a decade ago, the WGA also says that a higher percentage of writers are working for guild minimums.
“The companies have leveraged the streaming transition to underpay writers, creating more precarious, lower-paid models for writers’ work,” the report concluded. “Our 2023 negotiations must significantly address writer compensation.”
The total number of scripted TV shows, including broadcast, cable and streaming, has more than doubled in the last decade. Over the same period, the total number of employed writers has increased by nearly 30%, according to guild data.
Total writer earnings are also up significantly, rising more than 50% from 2011 to 2021, according to the guild’s data. Average earnings per writer are up 19% over the last decade, but they are flat when inflation is factored in.
The WGA report does not cite those figures, but refers instead to median weekly pay for writer-producers. According to the report, that figure has declined by 4% in a decade, or 23% when indexed to inflation.
The guild states that the percentage of writers earning minimum salaries has also increased from 33% to 49% since 2013.
The report also notes that higher-paid writers are seeing their weekly pay decline as episode orders shrink and production schedules lengthen, because they are paid by the episode.
Writers who make less than $400,000 a year on most types of shows are covered by “span protection,” which mandates that an episode fee cover no more than 2.4 weeks of work. The guild argues that the higher-paid writers should also enjoy that protection.
“With long production schedules, these writers find their episodic fees amount to little more than weekly scale when stretched over so many weeks,” the report states.
The report argues that minimums for screenplays are “far too low.”
The latest report does not address two key issues for upcoming bargaining: room size and streaming residuals.
The union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers exchanged proposals on Monday and are set to meet face-to-face next week. The current contract expires on May 1.