Why the war over streaming data is at the heart of Hollywood's strikes

Wendy Lee, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

LOS ANGELES — Years ago, at the beginning of the streaming wars, writers like “One Day at a Time” reboot co-showrunner Gloria Calderón Kellett called Netflix a “black hole” because, unlike with broadcast TV, she didn’t know how many people were watching the show.

Rivals such as Apple TV+, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ and Paramount+ adopted a similarly opaque approach to viewership, rarely revealing exactly how large a show’s audience was.

For writers, it was a trade-off: On one hand, some creators liked not being held to the standard of daily Nielsen ratings. On the other, data for a hit series can be helpful leverage in negotiating future deals.

Now the battle for transparency in streaming data has become one of the biggest dividing lines in the ongoing actors’ and writers’ strikes, dual work stoppages that Hollywood hasn’t seen since the 1960s. Performers union SAG-AFTRA and the Writers Guild of America say video streaming services have benefited from the work of their members, and they want film and TV writers and actors to be rewarded when they make a hit.

To achieve that goal, actors and writers say, they need to know how many people are watching.

The issue has created a pickle for streamers that are part of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which negotiates on behalf of the major entertainment companies, including Netflix.


During a meeting with fellow studio CEOs earlier this summer, Netflix co-Chief Executive Ted Sarandos pushed his counterparts to move the talks along with major concessions and at one point suggested that Netflix could splinter off but wanted to work with the AMPTP, according to a person close to the negotiations who was not authorized to comment.

However, Netflix and other streaming services haven’t been willing to give writers access to data in a way that would satisfy the WGA’s demands, according to two other people close to the negotiations. Still others credited Netflix, the largest subscription streaming platform, for being more open with data than its rivals, albeit not as much as the guild would like.

Netflix declined to comment. The AMPTP has disputed suggestions of fracturing within its ranks.

The labor dispute speaks to the long-standing distrust between writers and studios, who have engaged in legal battles over how much talent should earn from popular shows like “The Walking Dead,” even when those shows do have reliable viewership data. But defining what success is on a streaming service can be difficult because each relies on different metrics. What matters to Netflix — whose business is primarily subscriptions — is different from Apple, whose main business is selling iPhones, not its streaming service.


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