Compelling writers find their villains: Netflix
Just a week after thousands of TV and film writers took to the picket line, Netflix is feeling the pinch.
Late Wednesday night, Netflix abruptly said it was canceling its big Manhattan showcase for advertisers next week.instead of a live event held at the saga paris theaterthe streaming company leases, and Netflix said presentations will now be virtual.
Hours earlier, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said he would not be attending the May 18 PEN America Literary Gala at the Museum of Natural History, the literary world’s premier event. He was originally scheduled to be honored alongside “Saturday Night Live” standout Lorne Michaels.In a statement, Mr Sarandos explained that he quit because Potential demonstrations could overshadow the event.
“Given the potential for spoiling this wonderful evening, I thought it best to back out so as not to distract from the important work PEN America is doing for writers and journalists, and celebrating my friend and personal hero, Lorne Michaels,” he said. “Hope the party is a complete success.”
Netflix’s one-two punch in canceling shows underlines the extent to which the streaming giant has become the embodiment of writers’ complaints. Writers represented by an affiliate affiliate of the Writers Guild of America say the streaming age has eroded their working conditions and stagnated their wages, much of it at Netflix, despite a surge in television production in recent years.
Before talks broke down last week, the WGA had been in talks with the Film and Television Producers Union, which represents all the major Hollywood studios, including Netflix, to bargain. Writers went on strike on May 2. Negotiations have yet to resume, and Hollywood is bracing for an extended shutdown.
Last week, at a summit in Los Angeles, the day after the strike was called, an attendee asked union leaders which studio was the worst for writers. Ellen Stutzman, WGA lead negotiator, and David Goodman, chairman of the writers’ negotiating committee, answered in unison: “Netflix.” The crowd of 1,800 writers laughed and then clapped, according to a person who was there that night, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the strike.
The last writers’ strike was in 2007, when Netflix was little more than a DVD-by-mail company for the fledgling streaming service. But over the past decade, Netflix has produced hundreds of original shows, helping usher in the streaming era and upending the entertainment industry in the process.
Initially, Netflix was hailed by the creative community for producing so many shows and offering so many opportunities.
The demonstrations over the past week have highlighted the extent of writers’ dissatisfaction with the company. In Los Angeles, Netflix’s Sunset Boulevard headquarters has become the focus of high-profile writers.Imagine Dragons an impromptu concert in front of hundreds of demonstrators on Tuesday. One writer pleaded on social media this week that more pickets are needed outside of Universal Studios, sigh Instead, “everyone wants to party at Netflix”.
Demonstrators gathered outside the headquarters on Wednesday. “Ted Sarandos is my father and I hate him,” read one sign. Another said: “I shared my Netflix password. It’s ‘pay me’!”
While the writers marched, veteran TV writer Peter Hume stuck flyers to placards that read “cancel contract” and “cancel Netflix until a fair deal is made.”
Mr Hume, who has worked on shows such as “Glamour” and “Flash Gordon: A Modern Space Opera,” said the streaming giant was responsible for dismantling a system that trained writers to develop their careers into sustainable, productive careers. A fulfilling job.
“I’ve been in continuous service for 26 years, but I haven’t had a job for the last four years because I’m too expensive,” Mr Hume said. “It’s mostly because Netflix broke the mold. I think they put all the money into streaming wars productions and take it away from the writers.”
Netflix’s decision to cancel its in-person presentation for marketers next week has caught many in the entertainment and advertising industries off guard.
The company had planned to join the so-called advance programming lineup, a decades-old tradition in which media companies hold big events for advertisers in mid-May to drum up interest in upcoming programming and advertising revenue.
Netflix, which launched a low-priced subscription service with ads late last year, plans to hold its first pre-sale Wednesday in Midtown Manhattan. After 10 years of operating only as a premium, commercial-free streaming service, marketers are dying to hear Netflix’s pitch.
“The level of excitement among clients is huge because this is White Dick,” Kelly Metz, senior general manager of television at media buying firm Omnicom Media Group, said in an interview earlier this week. “They’ve been without commercials for a long time, and they’ve always been something you can never buy, right? So having Netflix on board is very exciting for them.”
So it came as a surprise when advertisers planning to attend the presentation were notified late Wednesday night by Netflix that the event would be virtual.
“We look forward to sharing with you our progress on advertising and upcoming ads,” the note said. “We’ll share a link and more details next week.”
The prospect of hundreds of demonstrators outside the event was clearly unbearable.
Other companies are prepping in Manhattan—including NBCUniversal (Radio City Music Hall), Disney (Javits Center), Fox (Manhattan Center), YouTube (David Geffen Hall, Lincoln Center) and Warner Bros. Discovery Channel ( Madison Square Garden) — said Thursday that their event will go ahead as usual, though the writers plan to hold multiple demonstrations next week.
Mr. Sarandos’ decision to withdraw from the PEN American Literary Gala will not disrupt the event either. “Saturday Night Live” executive producer Mr. Michaels will still be honored, “Saturday Night Live” Weekend Update co-host Colin Jost will remain as MC
“We admire Ted Sarandos for his extraordinary work in bringing literature masterfully to the screen, and for his staunch defense of free speech and satire,” PEN America said in a statement. “As a writers’ organisation, we have been following recent events closely and understand his decision.”
The picket line from writers has already successfully disrupted the production of some shows, including the Showtime series “Billions” and the Apple TV+ series “Severance.” The MTV Movie and TV Awards turned into a pre-recorded event on Sunday after the WGA announced it would picket the event. The WGA also said Thursday it would protest Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav’s planned May 21 commencement address on the Boston University campus.
One of the complaints from writers is how their residual pay (a type of royalty) gets disrupted by streaming. Years ago, network TV writers were paid residuals every time a show was licensed, whether for syndication, overseas broadcast or DVD sales.
But streaming services like Netflix, which have traditionally not licensed its shows, have cut off those distribution channels. Instead, these services provide a fixed residual, which the writers say effectively lowers their wages. AMPTP, which is haggling on behalf of the studios, said last week it had offered to increase the remaining sum as part of the talks.
“According to the WGA, the residual is at an all-time high in 2022—almost 45% from streaming, with the lion’s share coming from Netflix,” a Netflix spokesperson said.
“Netflix pays the remainder regardless of the success of the show because our show remains on our service,” the spokeswoman said, adding that the practice differs from network and cable.
Outside Netflix’s Los Angeles headquarters on Wednesday, writers on the picket line expressed dismay that the company had started monetizing ads.
“If they’re making money from advertising, my guess is that it’s going to be a bigger source of revenue for them,” said Christina Strain, who wrote the Netflix sci-fi spectacle “Shadows and Bones.” “And then we’re just working for network TV without getting paid by the network.”
Sapna Maheshwari Contribution report.