Screenwriters go on strike against effects of streaming, AI

Ariella Kandkhorov, Head Copy Editor

May 2 more than 11,000 unionized screenwriters took to the streets to protest unfair pay and the use of artificial intelligence in written entertainment content. The last time film and TV writers went on strike was more than 15 years ago. 

The entertainment industry saw the immediate effects of the strike, with production for broadcast programs, streaming shows — including hit Netflix series Stranger Things — and some films coming to a halt. There were no late-night talk shows that week, nor the usual Saturday Night Live May 6. Instead, reruns were aired.

With the growing popularity of streaming services, screenwriters have been financially threatened. Prior to streaming services, all creative contributors to a work would be paid when a show was licensed for any reason. Now, these licenses are few and far between at the hands of global services, making it difficult to receive remuneration. 

The issue is only coupled by studios looking to utilize artificial intelligence (AI) tools like ChatGPT and Dall-E in an effort to reduce costs. The result is the median writer-producer pay reducing by 4%, which is 23% when adjusted for inflation. Conversely, top entertainment executives’ salaries have soared.

Writers Guild of America (WGA), the union at the forefront of the strike, is calling for increases in the minimum compensation for writers, as well as a requirement for companies to employ a certain number of writers for television shows in a given amount of time. 

As for the AI issue, WGA is demanding strict regulations, if not a complete ban, on their use in producing and contributing to written material. Specifically, they want a guarantee that AI will not write, rewrite or be used as a source for literary material. In addition, material covered by the union cannot be used to train AI. 

The strike is currently ongoing with no end in sight. Some estimate it may last until the fall, impacting even the Emmy Awards September 18.