The WGA strike might be ending, but Hollywood’s bigger problems aren’t

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(CNN) — The Writers Guild of America is in an understandably celebratory mood as it ends one of the longest strikes in its history, having held firm – and banded together with actors – to win significant concessions from the major studios and streaming services.

Details of the agreement remain undisclosed, but the WGA leadership called the three-year proposal “exceptional,” telling members the tentative contract – which must still be ratified – addressed concerns across its ranks, from movies to TV, veterans to neophytes.

The studios must still hammer out a deal with actors, but both labor and management have moved closer to putting this painful five-month chapter behind them, and Hollywood back to work. Yet that won’t resolve the underlying challenges facing the entertainment industry that prompted the guilds to take this action, including wrenching change brought about by streaming – one reason some referred to this as “the Netflix strike.”

While talent can take satisfaction in being better and more fairly compensated, the sobering truth is there might be fewer opportunities to go around, as the days of “peak TV” appear destined to give way to belt tightening and greater selectivity.

Those cautionary notes shouldn’t diminish what the writers and actors’ unity accomplished, joined in the belief that they had to make a stand and address fundamental issues around streaming – including residual payments for their work and minimums about how many writers TV shows employ – to avoid going through this again in another three or six years.

In that sense, the anonymous studio executive who talked to the website Deadline about prolonging the strike to make the guilds buckle under the weight of financial pain clearly miscalculated – coming across like a Bond villain, and giving writers and actors bulletin-board material to anger and motivate them.

Whatever the outcome of this battle, though, there are signs Hollywood overall is losing the war. And the third vital part of the equation – consumers of entertainment – could come up on the short end if they’re asked to pay more for the content they watch while potentially receiving fewer options.

Some of these issues were foreseeable, but other parts weren’t. Streaming and a global pandemic (which helped fuel the growth of streaming services) have combined to siphon money away from traditional television and theatrical movie-going. Now with streaming gains slowing, the revenues from those new subscribers aren’t fully offsetting what’s being lost.

So while Hollywood can celebrate the success of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” this summer, any “The movies are back!” enthusiasm was dampened by the expensive “tent poles” intended to prop up the box office that flopped relative to their high budgets, including “The Flash” and “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.”

Signs of other tensions surfaced in the form of carriage disputes between companies like Disney and Charter Communications over fees for cable channels, resulting in a temporary blackout of Disney-owned ESPN and other networks as Charter fought to hold the line on costs amid a steady drip of “cord-cutting” by cable and satellite subscribers.

As for writers’ fight for greater transparency about streaming viewership so they could share in the success of hits, even that could be a mixed bag if, as Bloomberg’s Lucas Shaw wrote, streaming services start “becoming more cautious about their spending. That’s bad for the creative class.”

So, were there “winners” and “losers” in the writers’ strike? A few, though most come with disclaimers and asterisks. Taking inventory:

The WGA: The slogan “WGA Strong” turned out to be more than a hashtag, as the guild maintained its solidarity – with help from SAG and other quadrants of the industry – in fighting for what members view as fair pay. If the deal hastens the end of “peak TV,” though, that could mean less work and hollow out aspects of what looks like victory over time.

The AMPTP: The member companies (including CNN parent Warner Bros. Discovery) saw their public images take a beating, with the guilds effectively rallying support and painting their CEOs as bad guys in the public-relations war. The studios did save money on production in the short term and could engineer more retrenchment in the months ahead.

Oscar campaigns: Maybe the clearest winner. With writers and actors declining to promote their work during the strike, publicists are surely salivating about the prospect of getting the latter back on red carpets before the stretch of year-end movies associated with awards season.

Traditional TV: The major networks could ill afford to do anything to prompt viewers to seek their entertainment elsewhere. To the extent the strike left their fall TV lineups looking relatively bare, this was a loss for them and gift to the streaming services.

Streaming: While they may have saved money during the stoppage, the WGA appears to have gained a key concession that will let them share in the success of streaming hits. The big question now: Can streamers charge more, or sell enough advertising, to offset their slowing growth?

The Directors Guild of America: Perhaps the forgotten loser in this cycle, having quickly agreed to a deal with the studios in June, in a way that overlooked or ignored the momentum behind its guild brethren in agitating for more significant and historic change.

Drew Barrymore and Bill Maher: Their announcements that they would bring back their shows without writers spurred hostility from those on the picket lines. Although each backed down – and Barrymore issued an apology – will there be lingering effects in terms of guest bookings? Probably not, but stay tuned.

The consumer: There wasn’t a noticeable shortage of entertainment content during the strike, but after a 146-day production break, there will be some spacing out of movies and TV shows in the months ahead. The real bottom line: We’re all almost certainly going to be asked to pay more for what we watch, wherever and however we watch it.

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