EXCLUSIVE: With the result of the WGA’s strike-authorization vote expected today, those binge-ing on the hope of a rumored Netflix side deal with writers if picket lines go up next week should chill out: it ain’t happening.
“So f*cking unlikely,” one source close to the situation said bluntly of the streaming service seeking an agreement of its own, or swooping in to play honest broker, if there is a strike on May 2. Hoping to quell rumors, WGA and AMPTP insiders on both sides of the negotiating table also insist that such a scenario is at best an uninformed false hope. In a rare case of agreement, reps for both the scribes and the producers term the Netflix rumors at worst a “dangerous,” to quote one guild source, distraction from the high-stakes labor precipice on which Hollywood finds itself.
That throws cold water on the rumor that has become more than a whisper in some circles of what would be a seismic shift in industry labor relations if Netflix or Amazon were to rearrange the rules of the game. While Netflix, like Amazon, is not a signatory to the current three-year film and TV contract, the streamer adheres to the deal’s rates and requirements.
Studio bosses and WGA leadership have been back-channeling during the latest break in talks that went into effect last week. But hopes of those conversations breaking the current logjam with the AMPTP are faint, as the intention was mainly to lay pipe for more direct communications if required as things barrel towards a strike in the next week.
Talk of a Netflix side deal actually came up last week at the WGA West meeting and vote casting at the Universal Sheraton. “A question was asked if YouTube and the others, which everyone knew to mean Netflix and Amazon, could make their own deals,” an attendee told Deadline. “It got shot down by David Young,” he said of the guild’s chief negotiator and WGA West executive director. With a clear “no” to cheers, Young apparently rhetorically said he wasn’t interested in any arrangement that would see “10% of our members able to work but 90% couldn’t.”
‘This all comes out of talk of the predominate production role Netflix, and to a lesser degree Amazon, now have in the industry, something that clearly didn’t exists in 2007,” said one source of how a side deal or increased negotiating role could emerge. “The Big 6 are running things and keeping Netflix and Amazon out of the room,” another insider said of the role played but the non-signatory streamers in the fractious talks led by Carol Lombardini for the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. “They see them as competitors,” the insider added.
The sense of a fracture behind the scenes is partially due to the fact that while Netflix and Amazon shows currently in production would have to go dark during a strike, the streamers wouldn’t feel the immediate pain of a labor action. “Most of our series in the pipeline to debut in the next six months are already deep in post, so we’re good there,” one streamer exec noted late last week. Add to that the primetime fact that the inventory of new and old series and movies Netflix and Amazon have could be of benefit and subscriber growth for the companies if a strike erupts. In search of entertainment options, viewers could soon shift to streaming as the broadcasters’ primetimes dry up.
Regardless of any improbable side deal, the streamers would still find shows they buy from the likes of ABC Studios and Marvel, who produce the currently six series strong superhero shows for the streamer, and others stopped cold.
Also, while notions of holds and small episode orders in this era of Peak TV are a significant element in the WGA contract talks, residuals and such things are not something that applies for the most part ot Netflix and Amazon. The companies make payments up front as opposed to the more traditional broadcast system, which sees writers getting checks for years to come if shows are a success.
If the WGA gets the expected approval for a strike authorization today from its more than 14,000 voting members, it will have a bigger stick to take back to resumed talks with AMPTP tomorrow. With the pitchforks out among the writers for what they see as the need for a new deal, and producers looking for health care and other rollbacks, Hollywood is moving fast toward its first strike since the walkout that shut down the industry in late 2007 and early 2008.
“Everybody wants to modernize the framework and not be held to 30-year-old models,” says one studio corner-office holder of the issues baked into Hollywood’s long-term labor strife. “But, even with all the changes in the last few years, nobody knows how to cut the Gordian knot.”