The WGA Clashes with the Rise of Digital Media

strike Cynthia Littleton’s TV on Strike: Why Hollywood Went to War Over the Internet discusses at length how the writer’s strike of 2007 (and into 2008) was preceded by a digital upheaval from 2005 and 2006 that produced a lot of uncertainties in the entertainment industry. Things such as DVR, iTunes, illegal file-sharing services, legal video streaming on Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon Prime, re-runs, and buying of DVDs vastly changed the television industry. The industry struggled to come up with strategies to counteract and/or work with these new viewing options. In addition to the troubles of competition, the industry needed to tackle the change in expectations for compensation of actors, directors, producers, and writers with all the new distribution channels.

“As the film and television business began to embrace digital distribution in late 2005 and 2006, the absence of a specific residual compensation formula for new media was an effective rallying cry for WGA leaders in the buildup to and during the strike” (Littleton 8).

Production companies struggled to keep up with the new technological advances, and the result of this was the writer’s strike. Writers did not believe that they were being adequately compensated for their work, especially those writers who worked on a freelance basis and relied on their paid writing to put food on the table for them and their families. The strike would go on to have a major impact on the television industry, significantly impacting the success of many shows that suffered from shortened seasons and rushed conclusions to plots.

A lot of the writers who were on strike during this time period embraced the notion that:

“it was crucial for WGA members to take a strong stand on new media now to protect the rights of future generations” (Littleton xv).

The writers were clearly looking toward the future of the entertainment industry, sensing that this insurgence of digital media consumption would continue and even broaden over time. Streaming sites are now an extremely popular option for viewing TV and film and continue to grow in popularity as more and more people gain access to them. I personally have stopped watching TV on my television entirely, solely watching TV shows on my own time on my computer. I very rarely even watch a film on a television anymore either, unless I think it’s a very important film that I want to watch in slightly better quality. In my experience, my television is more outdated than I would like it to be, so I usually just put a DVD into my laptop to watch it.

streamAnother option for viewers beside the legal streaming sites are sites that allow for illegal streaming or downloading of media. The illegal streaming sites have some advantages over the legal ones. Hulu is a great, legal site for watching TV shows, however, the commercials turn a lot of people off from watching shows on there. People don’t want to wait for commercials to play if they can avoid it, here is where illegal streaming has one advantage.

Another advantage of illegal streaming over, say, Netflix, is that a viewer can watch a show, free, and commercial free within an hour or less of the show airing on a television. With Netflix, the viewer has to wait for the season of the show to be over before it can be put on the site. Illegal sites promote near-instant viewing, allowing viewers to keep up with a show on a weekly basis, without having to pay for cable. Netflix and Hulu also have a limited selection of TV shows and films available whereas a viewer can find almost any film or TV show ever made for free on illegal sites. Film and TV show piracy continues to be an issue that the entertainment industry is fighting with and losing. At this point, very few people even feel remotely bad about streaming or downloading illegal media.

In January of 2013, TV Guide Magazine did an interview with Cynthia Littleton about the effects that the writer’s strike has had on the industry. She says that the writers have not seen a tremendous difference, but the writers still think they stood up for the right thing. She admits that the negotiations with CEOs could have gone smoother if there was more outreach and private conversations from them about reaching a happy medium. The strike and the economic downturn led to the downsizing of the writing staffs of TV shows. It also led to broadcast networks being nervous about spending a lot on shows that they didn’t have high confidence in. They also had a hard time trying to distribute digital residuals to writers because they weren’t sure where the money was coming from. She says:

“That led to some mundane choices on the broadcast network side. That probably benefited edgier outlets like AMC and FX” (Battaglio).

Indeed, AMC has seen huge success with shows such as Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, and Mad Men, where they may not have had the chance for that success had it not been for the reductions seen on broadcast networks. AMC was able to take chances with these shows, and ended up with large success. FX also has had success with shows such as The League, American Horror Story, and Justified. Littleton also acknowledges that there could be another conflict between the WGA and studios because of the continuously growing popularity of digital streaming (Battaglio).

Battaglio, Stephen. “The Biz: Was the Writer’s Strike Worth It?” TV Guide Magazine 31 Jan. 2013. Web. 4 Feb. 2014.

Littleton, Cynthia. TV on Strike: Why Hollywood Went to War over the Internet. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse UP, 2013.



  1. Do you think that the various ‘advantages’ of illegal streaming and downloading strengthened (perhaps even justified) the AMPTP’s opposition to the WGA’s insistence on compensation for content that is delivered through legal digital channels?

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