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Hollywood is again bracing for a writers' strike. Here's what's different

Anousha Sakoui and Ryan Faughnder, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

At the Television Critics Association gathering in Pasadena, Calif., earlier this month, NBC Entertainment Chairman Paul Telegdy reflected on a subject many of his peers wished to avoid: the prospect of reliving another writers' strike.

"So far we've been told that we should be cautious, as always, but that a strike is something we will always be prepared for," Telegdy told journalists at the Langham Huntingon hotel. "It's a different world ... I just need to make sure there are things people want to watch and we've got plans that could sustain us."

More than a decade after writers shut down Hollywood, studios and networks are once again preparing for another potential walkout that could disrupt Southern California's highest profile industry. But the circumstances have radically changed since the last strike, which began in fall of 2007 and lasted 100 days.

Then, Hollywood was just entering a digital revolution that would upend old distribution models, with Netflix just starting its pivot from DVD to the internet and Hulu going live as the strike ended. Today, the streaming revolution has accelerated to a degree few could have imagined then, creating a new golden era in TV production.

Much more is at stake for both the studios, which are in the throes of launching new direct-to-consumer services such as NBC's Peacock and AT&T's HBO Max., and the writers, who could miss out on a production surge. HBO Max is due to launch the same month the Writers Guild of America contract ends with the studios expires May 1. NBC plans to roll out Peacock nationally by July 15.

"The bottom line is, we are in a really different context than we were in 2007 and 2008," said Ivy Kagan Bierman, an L.A.-based entertainment lawyer who has represented production companies on labor issues. "The emergence of Netflix and similar platforms has really changed the landscape."

 

Studios, production companies and guild members are all eager to avoid a sequel to the last major disruption that cost the state an estimated 37,700 jobs and $2.1 billion in lost output from late 2007 through the end of 2008, according to a 2008 Milken Institute report.

Even L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti is worried about the potential effect of a work stoppage on the city.

"It's troubling because this doesn't just hurt the industry, it hurts main street," Garcetti said in an interview to promote a new initiative to increase Latino employment in Hollywood. "It hurts the dry cleaner and the bakery and those dollars that are recycled here. I hope that as models change, that people can also figure out a way to keep that production here because fighting for something better, the last thing we want to see is for that production to leave altogether."

The continued spread of filming to Georgia, New York and other film hubs could lessen the economic hit of a strike on L.A., but the "impact on individuals could be just as bad, especially if there is a protracted strike, because of the higher cost of living," said Kevin Klowden, executive director of the Milken Institute's Center for Regional Economics and California Center.

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