The American film and television industry has been shut down for more than two months now due to simultaneous strikes by actors’ and writers’ unions. The disputes, which have also contributed to a slowdown in filming activity around the world, including in Ireland, hinge on two key issues: falling pay and fear of an uncertain future. The first of these arises from the structural changes that have transformed the industry over the past 10 years, with the shift from linear TV to streaming services whittling away the re-broadcasting fees which traditionally made up a significant part of incomes.
The second issue is the threat to livelihoods posed by technological innovation. Writers and actors alike are alarmed at the prospect of being replaced by artificial intelligence, which could generate everything from script rewrites to voiceovers. Recent experiments have shown how convincing these new generative models can be.
The disputes are a symptom of an industry in flux. The rise of Netflix and other platforms brought a glut of productions. It could be argued the investment was successful: last year, for the first time, Americans spent less than 50 per cent of their viewing time watching traditional broadcast TV. But the streamers have now entered a period of consolidation as subscriptions slow and revenues slacken. Meanwhile, despite this summer’s Barbenheimer phenomenon, cinema attendances remain below pre-pandemic levels.
The strikes are estimated to have already cost the Californian economy several billion dollars, with their impact felt in New York, London and other major filming locations. As yet, actors have had no talks with employers, while writers swiftly rejected the first offer from producers’ representatives. News emerged this week of tentative attempts to open channels of communications between the opposing sides. But many believe the shutdown could drag on into 2024. That would mean no scripted shows, no blockbuster movies and possibly even no Oscars. But the resolution, when it finally comes, will shape the future of the global audiovisual industry.