Peak TV Is Over. A Different Hollywood Is Coming.

Writers won major concessions in the deal, including new bonus payouts and higher royalties
Writers won major concessions in the deal, including new bonus payouts and higher royalties


The end of the writers’ strike marks a new era. Studios and streamers are likely to order fewer TV shows. Consolidation could follow.

Fewer new shows in production. A higher bar to get shows renewed. Rich paydays going only to an elite few.

The labor pact writers struck with studios and streamers this week, ending a five-month strike, will likely accelerate the retrenchment that was already under way in Hollywood for more than a year. It represented a formal end to “peak TV," a decade that included an explosion of programming for viewers—and job opportunities for talent in Tinseltown.

Writers won major concessions in the deal, including new bonus payouts and higher royalties. Those hard-won victories are especially important given the hard financial realities of the entertainment business.

A combination of debt-laden mergers, mounting losses in streaming, and the fast-shrinking cable TV bundle, has led to a push on Wall Street for entertainment companies to rein in spending.

The streamers will have to find a way to pay increased talent costs—from the writers’ settlement, along with an earlier deal with directors and whatever is finalized with actors—without adding to their overall production costs.

(Graphic: WSJ)
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(Graphic: WSJ)

That will likely mean that companies will make fewer new shows and cancel even more that are on the bubble. In effect, while many people in Hollywood will get better pay as a result of the deal, the contraction in spending means there will be less work to go around.

“The gusher of spending—I don’t see that marketplace coming back," said Kevin Reilly, who held top programming positions at Fox, NBC and the streaming service HBO Max, championing shows like “The Office" and “The Shield" along the way. “Everyone will get a better piece of what they’ve created. But if anyone is thinking, ‘Let the good times roll!’—that won’t happen."

One veteran TV producer predicted the number of scripted shows Hollywood produces could fall by one-third in the next three years. “The contraction in investment in content will by definition restrict the amount of work that’s needed," the executive said.

For most of a decade, streaming companies were antiestablishment insurgents. Now, streamers, from Netflix to Max to Disney+ to Amazon Prime Video, are the new establishment, and the negotiations with writers reflected that.

Mike Royce, a writer-producer whose credits include “Everybody Loves Raymond" and the Netflix reboot of “One Day at a Time," said pushing for better terms was a no-brainer, regardless of whatever programming cuts might be coming, because the old system wasn’t working.

“There is no, ‘You’ll cut off your nose to spite your face,’ " he said. “Our faces had already been eaten. The world we were in, we had lost so much."

Writers were upset that streaming didn’t offer the same rewards for success as traditional TV. Under the new deal, they secured bonuses when their streaming shows perform well. They were concerned about a movement toward smaller writing rooms—a cost-cutting measure as streamers continued to bleed money—and won a provision that imposes minimum staffing requirements.

The studios held the line on key issues. Streamers won’t publicly release viewing data, despite the writers’ demands for transparency, but instead will give data on how shows fared to the Guild confidentially to share with its members in aggregate form.

(Graphic: WSJ)
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(Graphic: WSJ)

The studios also have a license to build artificial-intelligence tools and train them on writers’ scripts, after rejecting a demand from writers that they pledge not to do so. However, writers get some significant AI protections, too. They won’t lose out on writing credits or compensation when AI tools are used to assist in creating scripts.

Hollywood’s current problems are structural issues much bigger than the familiar search for hits. The solutions are more likely to come from the boardroom than the writers’ room.

The root problem is that there are too many streaming services. That is creating confusion for consumers and hopeless economics for the companies. Consolidation, whether in the form of mergers, joint ventures or bundles, has to come to the streaming world for the industry to be viable.

When do I start to see new episodes of my favorite shows?

Late-night shows including “Late Night With Seth Meyers" and Jimmy Fallon’s “The Tonight Show" announced plans to return next week, though it will be hard to bring in actors as guests, since their still-unresolved strike limits promotional appearances. Drew Barrymore’s daytime talk show plans to resume later in October.

Writing activities on scripted shows can resume—from broadcast shows like ABC’s “Abbott Elementary" and NBC’s “Law & Order" franchise, to streaming and premium-cable fare like “Stranger Things" and “The White Lotus." But production can’t start until the Screen Actors Guild reaches a labor deal with the studios. So it could still be many weeks—and for a lot of shows and movies, into 2024—before shooting begins.

The actors union told its members Wednesday that it planned to resume negotiations with studios and streamers Oct. 2 and that several executives from member companies planned to attend. Industry executives are optimistic that the union and studios will forge a deal by the end of October.

Will AI write TV shows in the future?

Not anytime soon. It’s more likely that in the coming years AI will become a tool used to brainstorm ideas, sift through script submissions and provide building blocks for show concepts or dialogue as humans do the creative heavy-lifting. The faster applications of AI are in areas like visual effects.

That said, the two sides hashed out issues in the negotiations that will allow some AI-assisted work to begin. The new agreement will make it more important for Hollywood writers to learn how to best use these tools for their jobs.

“The basic storytelling tenets haven’t necessarily changed, but the way you get to the end results is changing fast," said Jon Dudkowski, editor and director of “Star Trek: Discovery" and an adjunct professor at University of Southern California.

Ultimately, both the writers and the studios face a common threat in the AI world, said Doug Shapiro, a consultant to media companies. “If AI more broadly reduces the cost of creating content and the supply of good-enough content explodes, then the whole economic foundation of Hollywood is going to shift, if not crumble."

How is the new streaming era shaping up for consumers?

The cost of streaming subscriptions has risen sharply over the past year as entertainment companies’ focus on acquiring customers and growth at all costs gave way to a profitability push. That trend is likely to continue, and the costs of the strike settlement will give streamers one more reason to lift prices.

Disney in August raised the price of its flagship streaming service, Disney+, and Hulu by more than 20% each, its second round of significant price hikes in about a year. Paramount’s CEO said he plans to again raise the price of Paramount+. Others are likely to follow suit.

(Graphic: WSJ)
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(Graphic: WSJ)

Consumers face an increasingly complicated array of subscription tiers and packages, as some streamers experiment with add-on sports plans and ad-supported tiers. Households will also have to pay for services they once enjoyed free of charge as part of family sharing arrangements as more services crack down on password sharing.

“Sometimes you’ll have a wave of great content and other times not so much," said 36-year-old Tarrin Morgan II, who lives in Baltimore. Streaming services, he added, are “putting the price up, but there’s not that great content all the time."

Morgan said he supported the striking writers and applauded the changes they won, but breathed a sigh of relief when he saw that the strike ended. He can’t wait to watch new episodes of shows like “Abbott Elementary" and “Rap Sh!t," on Max.

Was the fight worth it for the talent?

There’s no question that five months on the picket line paid off. The terms the Guild secured will make a meaningful difference in members’ lives—no small achievement after months that left many in dire financial straits. Many writers complained about inadequate residuals—the royalty payments from studios and producers for re-use of their work that have been a staple of compensation in the TV world since the 1950s. Foreign streaming residuals—a particular sore spot for writers—will increase 76% for the largest services under the deal. In one example the Guild provided, the writer or writers on an hourlong show produced by Netflix will receive foreign residual payments amounting to a total of $32,830 an episode over three years, from $18,684 under the previous deal.

The most important win was that, as in traditional TV, the talent will get paid more in success. Shows watched by at least 20% of a streamer’s domestic subscriber base in the first 90 days of release—or the first 90 days of subsequent years—will get a bonus.

Hits will reach that threshold. The second season of the culinary comedy “The Bear," which streams on Hulu, was watched by about 27% of the service’s roughly 44 million subscribers in the five weeks after its late June release, according to a rough analysis of available Nielsen data. Netflix’s “Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story," would make the cut as well. Many shows, though, will have a tougher time.

The bonus could be anywhere from about $9,000 to around $40,000 for the largest streaming services, depending on the type and length of the programming.

Royce said he hopes the introduction of advertiser-supported versions of Netflix and other streaming services will also help writers. Earlier, shows survived by proving they could attract new subscribers. Now, they can demonstrate their value in another way.

“Logic says if you have shows that are doing well with advertisers you are going to want more episodes of those shows," he said. “You have to keep making things the advertisers like."

Sarah Krouse and Jessica Toonkel contributed to this article.

Write to Amol Sharma at and Joe Flint at

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