Write It and Weep: The Writers’ Strike and Digital Disruption

In the name of all things righteous, the Writers’ Strike of 2007-08 showed (corporate) America what justice for the 99 percent looked like. In efforts to level the playing field, members of the Writers Guild of America sought out higher pay, as their large-studio counterparts would earn on a regular basis. They fought for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AoMPTP) to make sacrifices that would create equal opportunity for all writers to be fairly compensated for their creativity. Some major power players were part of this alliance, including The Walt Disney Company, Warner Bros., and NBC Universal. Because of this, all 12,000 members of the WGA took it to the streets to protest in an event that would shake up the entertainment industry from that point forward. From a social justice standpoint, this movement showed the essence of the phrase “strength in numbers”. In Cynthia Littleton’s TV on Strike: Why Hollywood Went to War Over the Internet, she shows us that the dedication of the unfairly-treated writers resulted in an outpour of support of big names like Seth McFarlane, the mastermind behind the ever-controversial animated TV show Family Guy, and Reverend Jesse Jackson, a major Civil Rights figure. She says on page eight of her introduction:

For many writers, the rally was an electrifying demonstration of solidarity and unanimity. For the industry executives who warily monitored the goings-on from afar, it was the full flowering of the thing they feared the most–a militant spirit among the rank and file.

It was more the wildfire-like spread of digital platforms to distribute media to a growing and increasingly demanding audience that was the real tipping point for the WGA. The digital revolution would change the television scene (no pun intended), and subsequently shake up the way in which media companies and writers would make money. To no surprise, the big companies approached this threat with eyes full of dollar signs, and hopes to expand their reach with new strategies of building and maintaining their audiences, such as streaming and digital downloads. On page 4, Littleton writes:

Writers feared that the Internet would eventually supplant traditional broadcast and cable distribution of television programming and that the conglomerates would balk at extending the WGA’s traditional residual payment system for writers into the broadband realm.

As Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, and multiple illegal online sources prevail today, it is drastically noticeable how much “television” has changed. Given the evolution from watching our favorite shows on a television screen at a certain time on a certain day to having our favorite shows ready for us at our own convenience, it’s hard to take in if you’re still a dedicated fan of old traditions.

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