Can the 2023-2024 Cable Television Season Be Salvaged?

It has been 138 days since the Writers Guild of America (WGA) went on strike and 64 days since the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) followed suit with a strike of their own. 

While the central issues around the strikes revolve around streaming residuals and the use of AI in the industry, traditional television does not come out of this without facing possible changes.  

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) continues to move at a sluggish pace in regards to resolving the strike. Between a loss of advertising revenue alongside other costs, the losses the major studios have already faced are estimated to be in the billions of dollars. 

According to the WGA, it would take only $429 million dollars a year for all of their demands to be met. Already, the AMPTP has lost significantly more than that. 

The AMPTP has not appeared at the table in almost a month, at time of writing. 

In a statement to Deadline, Fox Entertainment President Michael Thorn stated that difficult decisions were ahead if the strike was not resolved by October 1. 

Instead of working to resolve the issues, the AMPTP wants to put the pressure on the writers and actors. The AMPTP wants the unions to discard their rights to a fair and livable wage in order to keep their jobs.

The longer this strike goes on, the more money the AMPTP loses. Truthfully, the real loss will appear around Thorn’s October 1st deadline. That date is centered around the two-week period that most television shows traditionally return. 

This year, they will not. 

And with their absence, networks are having to rely on reruns, reality television, and sports programming to fill in the gaps. Only one of those three has the potential to draw in big numbers, and even then those programs do not perform with the consistency of scripted series. 

The NFL believes that a benefit to the strike is that their programming will receive boosted numbers. To their minds, it will no longer be competing with popular broadcast shows. Those benefits may carry over to the NCAA and their programming as well. Other professional sports may also see a rise in their ratings as well. 

Reruns historically do not draw the same audience that new episodes do. With the current situation in some ways being unprecedented (the last major strike had ended before this point, so the promise of new programming was already on the horizon), reruns will not hold the numbers that are required of them.

The third player in this game is reality television which, with few exceptions, has never been able to draw in the numbers that dramas and comedies can. Even using large names such as Gordon Ramsey (in the case of Fox) to try to fill the holes will not stop the dramatic drop of viewership. And with that dramatic drop comes the dramatic drop in advertising dollars. 

In an industry that was already struggling (due to streaming overtaking them in popularity both with the public and during awards season), television finds itself in desperate need of change. 

As the upcoming cable season (and as a result the television industry as a whole) potentially crosses the point of no return, as Hollywood and the general public spend months realizing the value of writers and actors to modern entertainment, one has to be hopeful that something better may come out of this. 

Whatever reasons you want to point at it, television, as an industry and as an artistic medium, has been on a decline for far too long. It needed something like this strike to set it back on course. Perhaps this shake up can be mutually beneficial to both the studios and the creatives who help them run.

Writers and actors are fighting for livable work conditions. The happier and healthier that creatives are, the better work they are able to produce. Injecting new life into the industry may help boost it as it enters this new chapter.  

Those are answers we won’t find until this strike is resolved. In a recent statement made to its members, the WGA announced that they are working with the AMPTP to find a new date to continue discussions. 

Instead of spending time putting the pressure on writers and actors, perhaps the AMPTP should take an honest look at how much money they are willing to lose to make their point. Not only is this demeaning to the people who make the money they’re so desperate to hold on to, but it is winning them no favors with the general public.

Recent polls have the public overwhelmingly on the side of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA. They believe the people responsible for their entertainment should be paid accordingly. The longer that the AMPTP continues to drag this out, the stronger the opinion that they only care about their bottom line and not about their employees (and consumers) is going to become. 

Perhaps that’s a line that executives should be worried they are crossing. Will they hit a point where they can no longer find a way to win back the public trust?

Can the 2023-2024 cable television season be salvaged? At this point, I think we’ve already crossed a line. Even if AMPTP agreed to everything the writers and actors need,  it will be hard to get the industry going in a reasonable time. Even if the strike ended today, it would take weeks (more likely months) to get to the production phase, much less the distribution phase. 

But is it such a bad thing that the AMPTP is being forced to see that the model they’ve worked under for so long is broken? 

It’s what they’ve needed for a long time.

Featured Image: Photo by Quang Lự Đỗ

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