Threat to “late shows” and series? A strike by thousands of American television and film screenwriters for a pay rise is looming Monday in Hollywood for lack of agreement, a few hours before the expiration of notice. The main studios and platforms, including Disney and Netflix, are in talks with the powerful writers’ union, Writers Guild of America (WGA), which threatens if no agreement is reached to order a strike after midnight.

This would result in the immediate hiatus of hit shows, such as late-night shows, and significantly delay TV series and movies slated for release this year. The last major social movement in Hollywood dates back to the scriptwriters’ strike which paralyzed the American audiovisual industry in 2007-2008. A 100-day conflict that had cost the sector two billion dollars.

Screenwriters are demanding higher pay and a bigger share of streaming profits as studios say they need to cut costs due to economic pressures. “Everyone feels like there’s going to be a strike,” said a Los Angeles-based television screenwriter who did not want to be named. At stake is “an agreement that will determine how we are paid” for streaming, both today and in the future, he added.

The screenwriters say they are struggling to make a living from their craft, with salaries stagnating or even falling due to inflation, while their employers are making profits and increasing the salaries of their executives. They believe that they have never been so numerous to work at the minimum wage set by the unions, while the television networks hire fewer people to write increasingly short series.

One of the main disagreements is over how screenwriters are paid for streaming series, which on platforms like Netflix often remain visible for years after being written. For decades, screenwriters have collected “residual rights” for the reuse of their works, for example in TV reruns or DVD sales. It is either a percentage of the revenue earned by the studios for the film or show, or a fixed sum paid for each rerun of an episode.

With streaming, authors receive a fixed amount each year, even in the event of global success of their work such as the Bridgerton or Stranger Things series, seen by hundreds of millions of viewers around the world. The WGA calls for the revaluation of these amounts today “far too low in view of the massive international reuse” of these programs. She also wants to discuss the future impact of artificial intelligence on the screenwriting profession.

The studios, represented by the Alliance of Film and Television Producers (AMPTP) point out that the “residual rights” paid to screenwriters reached a record level of $494 million in 2021, compared to $333 million ten years earlier. early, thanks in large part to the explosion in screenwriting jobs linked to the rise in demand for streaming. Having been spendthrift in recent years, when competing broadcasters have sought to boost subscriber numbers at all costs, the bosses say they are now under heavy pressure from investors to cut spending and make profits. And they deny pretexting economic difficulties to strengthen their position in negotiations with screenwriters.

“Do you think Disney would lay off 7,000 people just for fun?” a source close to AMPTP said. According to her, “there is only one platform that is profitable right now, and that is Netflix”. The film industry “is also a very competitive sector”.