Contract Bulletins

Upstaging the TV Upfronts and Taking the Fight to Wall Street
How the WGA is making sure the strike’s impact on the media companies is front and center with those who finance and invest in them.
Monday, May 29, 2023

While writers walk the picket lines at studios or on location, the WGA is making sure the strike’s impact on the media companies is front and center with those who finance and invest in them.

Upstaging the Upfronts

Case in point: This month, Comcast-NBCU, Fox, Disney, Warner Bros. Discovery, and Netflix put on Upfront and Newfront presentations to ad buyers. While these events usually feature big name talent promoting new and returning shows for the upcoming TV season, writers and actors were noticeably absent as the WGA put up picket lines outside the NYC venues. Netflix opted to go virtual to avoid the picket lines. Inside the events, executives made pitches to advertisers but were unable to guarantee that marquee scripted programs would be part of their Fall lineups.

The impact of the strike became a central storyline:

  • Jon Steinlauf, chief of Warner Bros. Discovery US ad sales: “What you’re about to see is not exactly the show we expected to do today.”
  • Casey Bloys, Chairman and CEO, HBO and HBO Max Content: “First, let me just start by saying I am hopeful that a fair resolution is found soon with writers that would of course return talent to this stage…Let’s be honest, making this a far more entertaining show. Until then you’re kind of stuck with me and my clips.”
  • Greg Peters, co-CEO of Netflix: “It’s not exactly as we originally planned it…”
  • CW programming chief Brad Schwartz: “It’s not so easy reimagining a seven night a week broadcast network… in the middle of a writers strike.”

Each of these companies has the power to end the strike and resume production by returning to the table to negotiate a fair deal. As long as they refuse to do that, the WGA will make sure that Wall Street understands the costs of their intransigence.

Taking the Fight to Wall Street

Since before the strike, the WGA has been communicating with hundreds of media industry stakeholders: studio investors, analysts who advise investors on media stocks, advertisers, and the international networks that air scripted content outside of the U.S. Since the strike began, we have stepped up those communications, providing regular updates about the effects of the content pipeline shutdown, including this targeted list provided to Upfront attendees of programs that have had writing delayed or production halted.

Delays to Programming Accumulate
Numerous programs have halted production, ceased writing, or were likely to begin writing soon for a 2023-24 season premiere. The following list is only a sampling of such shows:
Blue Bloods (CBS)
Bob Hearts Abishola (CBS)
The Equalizer (CBS)
Elsbeth (CBS)
FBI: International (CBS)
FBI: Most Wanted (CBS)
Fire Country (CBS)
Ghosts (CBS)
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (CBS)
Matlock (CBS)
NCIS: Hawaii (CBS)
The Neighborhood (CBS)
So Help Me Todd (CBS)
Young Sheldon (CBS)
9-1-1 (ABC)
Abbott Elementary (ABC)
The Good Doctor (ABC)
Grey’s Anatomy (ABC)
Jimmy Kimmel Live! (ABC)
The Rookie (ABC)
Station 19 (ABC)
Will Trent (ABC)
9-1-1: Lone Star (FOX)
Accused (FOX)
Alert: Missing Persons Unit (FOX)
Animal Control (FOX)
Bob's Burgers (FOX)
The Cleaning Lady (FOX)
The Great North (FOX)
Chicago Fire (NBC)
Chicago Fire (NBC)
Chicago Med (NBC)
Chicago PD (NBC)
Extended Family (NBC)
Late Night with Seth Meyers (NBC)
Law & Order (NBC)
Law & Order: SVU (NBC)
Night Court (NBC)
Saturday Night Live (NBC)
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon (NBC)
The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)
Stranger Things (Netflix)
Wednesday (Netflix)
Emily in Paris (Netflix)
Hacks (HBO Max)
Sex Lives of College Girls (HBO Max)

What’s our message? We have informed the stakeholders about our bargaining agenda and its existential importance to writers. We have documented the impact of the strike in disrupting production. This ensures that the company line—it’s all fine, we have content in the can—is not the only message investors hear. We are making sure that Wall Street knows the late night shows are off the air, series like Hacks and Stranger Things have halted production, and renewed network shows won’t have episodes to air in September because the writing would be happening now. In other words, it’s not all fine, and we are hearing from stakeholders who are concerned.

Some are even speaking publicly; an investment officer for an ad-buying firm recently said “You add the writers’ strike into it and there’s even more uncertainty…I think it will cause some advertisers to hold back a little bit to wait and see, which some are already doing anyway.” And investment advisors are acknowledging the risks; a Moody’s investor services report recently noted, “The strike in May is poor timing for studios that produce for networks, since spring is the season where television writing begins ramping up writing scripts for the fall season. Critical fall television lineup production occurs through the summer with frequent rewriting. A protracted strike would cause revenue hits if companies run out of original scripts for new films and TV shows to attract audiences and advertisers.”

We are also communicating with Wall Street and media company investors about how the strike has an outsized impact on the legacy companies, including their streaming services. Even as Disney, Comcast NBCU, and Paramount grow their streaming services, they continue to produce a collective 45% of their episodes for their networks and rely on in-season availability of many of those episodes to anchor streaming services like Hulu, Peacock, and Paramount+. We will be sure to point out that those “strike-proof” lineups of reruns and reality that networks just announced during the Upfronts translate into lower viewership and leave large holes in content for their streaming services, leaving them vulnerable to churn, where consumers can easily cancel their subscription if they don’t see new programs.