In Hollywood Contract Talks, the Push for Viewership Data May Become a Flash Point
The Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers agreed on March 20 to begin negotiations on a new television and film master contract. The clock is already ticking and fears of strikes are growing. The WGA’s current contract expires on May 1.
The issues that the tribe of scribes will bring to the charcoal-gray table in the vast conference room at AMPTP’s Sherman Oaks headquarters have come into focus in recent months. Almost everyone agrees that compensation standards for writers — as well as actors and directors, whose unions will also be in contract talks this year — have been overtaken by the streaming revolution. The hard part will be reaching a compromise on how to accommodate them.
Hollywood labor veterans say one of the big flashpoints in the negotiations could be union demands for much more transparency from streaming platforms on viewership data. It is speculated that the WGA, Directors Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA will try to use their leverage to force major streamers to disclose significantly more data to content providers. For many creatives, this is a business imperative that must be incorporated into union contracts.
Before the rise of Netflix, there was no precedent in the modern era for entertainment platforms that were able to keep ratings, ticket sales or ticket revenue largely confidential. This changed with the construction of the “walled garden” of streaming. The platforms are built with proprietary technology that carves a digital moat that prevents traditional industry performance evaluators – such as Nielsen – from tracking viewership and overall usage levels.
It’s not just about the bragging rights. Hollywood unions and their members want to get their hands on a lot more data because these metrics have been a vital component of closing deals. Industry stars get paid—and then some—for success. A showrunner with a network’s No. 1 series for two seasons commands a raise to return for a third season. This has been the law of gravity in showbiz for decades. But in the current climate, there is little transparency, especially over the long term, for any given security.
The information gap is particularly frustrating for the creative community because in the digital age, platforms have the incredible ability to track viewership statistics down to individual users. “How is that okay [streamers] I’ve never known more about who’s watching what — and we don’t understand anything,” grumbles one union veteran.
But the unions are expected to make a big swing by turning the data flow that exists now into an effervescence. Industry watchers note that this in turn could be a major pain point within AMPTP, driving a wedge between legacy studio owners (Warner Bros. Discovery, Comcast, Paramount Global, Sony Pictures Entertainment) and new model streamers (Netflix, Amazon, Apple) who consistently refuse to release much data. (To be fair, Netflix since late 2021 has offered a limited weekly snapshot of viewing minutes for the top 10 titles in various categories.)
The biz is already worried that the tension between these two camps could complicate the negotiation process because mega streamers are seen as better equipped to deal with a long work stoppage.
Will Hollywood creatives be willing to knock for the right to know how many people watched the final season of “Brigerton” or “Ted Lasso”? If emotions run high on both sides of the table over demands for transparency, the fight could bring new meaning to the concept of number crunching.