A little over a week after thousands of TV and film writers went on picket lines, Netflix is feeling the heat.
Late Wednesday night, Netflix abruptly announced that it was canceling a major Manhattan show it would be hosting next week for advertisers. Instead of a personal event in the legendary Paris theaterthat the streaming company rents, Netflix said the presentation will now take place virtually.
Hours earlier, Netflix co-head Ted Sarandos said he would not be attending the PEN America Literary Gala at the Museum of Natural History on May 18, a major event for the literary world. He was to be honored along with Saturday Night Live’s Eminence Lorne Michaels. In a statement, Mr. Sarandos stated that he retired because The possible demonstrations could overshadow the event.
“At the risk of disrupting this wonderful evening, I felt it best to retire so as not to distract from the important work PEN America does for writers and journalists, and the celebration of my friend and personal hero, Lorne Michaels. ” he said. “I hope that the evening will be a complete success.”
Netflix’s double win in cancellations underscores just how much the streaming giant has become the epitome of writers’ grievances. The writers, who are represented by affiliated branches of the Writers Guild of America, said the streaming age has eroded their working conditions and their wages have stagnated, despite the explosion in television production in recent years, for which Netflix has been largely responsible.
The WGA had been negotiating with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which is negotiating on behalf of all major Hollywood studios, including Netflix, before talks collapsed last week. The writers left Strike on May 2nd. Negotiations have not resumed, but Hollywood has for a longer period of time work stoppage.
Last week, at a summit in Los Angeles the day after the strike, a participant asked union leaders which studio was the worst for writers. Ellen Stutzman, the WGA’s chief negotiator, and David Goodman, chair of the writers’ negotiating committee, replied in unison, “Netflix.” The crowd of 1,800 writers laughed and then applauded, according to a person present that evening, who remained anonymous because of the sensitivity of the strike wanted to stay.
When the writers last went on strike in 2007, Netflix was little more than a DVD mail order company with a burgeoning streaming service. But over the past decade, Netflix has produced hundreds of original programs, ushering in the streaming age and revolutionizing the entertainment industry.
Initially, Netflix was praised by the creative community for creating so many shows and offering so many options.
The demonstrations of the past week have shown how much the authors were annoyed with the company. In Los Angeles, the Netflix headquarters on Sunset Boulevard has become a magnet for striking writers. The band Imagine Dragons organized an impromptu concert in front of hundreds of protesters on Tuesday. One writer took to social media this week to argue that more pickets were needed outside Universal’s property. the regret “Everyone wants to throw a party on Netflix” instead.
Numerous demonstrators gathered in front of the headquarters on Wednesday. “Ted Sarandos is my father and I hate him,” read a sign. Another said: “I shared my Netflix password. It’s called ‘PAY ME’!”
As the writers marched, veteran television writer Peter Hume attached leaflets to picket signs that read, “Cancel until contract” and “Please cancel Netflix until a fair deal is reached.”
Mr Hume, who has worked on shows including Charmed and Flash Gordon: A Modern Space Opera, said the streaming giant is responsible for dismantling a system that has trained writers to turn their careers into sustainable, fulfilling jobs to convert
“I’ve been in the ministry continuously for 26 years and haven’t worked for the past four years because I’m too expensive,” Mr. Hume said. “And that’s largely because Netflix broke the model. I think they put all the money into production during the streaming wars and took it away from the writers.”
Netflix’s decision to cancel its in-person presentation to marketers next week caught much of the entertainment and advertising industry by surprise.
The company was set to join a series of so-called Upfronts, a decades-old tradition in which media companies host extravagant events for advertisers in mid-May to generate interest — and ad revenue — for their upcoming programming.
Netflix, which introduced a cheaper subscription offer with commercials Late last year, his first-ever event was scheduled to take place on Wednesday in midtown Manhattan. Marketers were excited about Netflix’s pitch after a decade of operating exclusively as an ad-free, premium streaming service.
“There’s tremendous customer excitement because it’s about the great white whale,” Kelly Metz, managing director of Advanced TV at Omnicom Media Group, a media buying firm, said in an interview earlier this week. “They’ve been ad-free for so long they have the reach you could never buy right? So it’s very exciting for them to have Netflix on board.”
That’s why it came as a surprise when advertisers who wanted to attend the presentation received a message from Netflix late Wednesday night that the event was going to be virtual.
“We look forward to sharing our progress on ads and the upcoming Slate,” the release reads. “We will post a link and more details next week.”
The prospect of hundreds of demonstrators outside the event apparently proved unbearable.
Other companies are hosting Upfronts in Manhattan — including NBCUniversal (Radio City Music Hall), Disney (The Javits Center), Fox (The Manhattan Center), YouTube (David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center), and Warner Bros. Discovery (Madison Square Garden) — said Thursday their events would proceed as usual, although the writers planned several demonstrations next week.
Also, Mr. Sarandos’ decision to withdraw from the PEN America Literary Gala will not disrupt this event. Mr. Michaels, executive producer of Saturday Night Live, continues to be honored, and Colin Jost, co-host of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, remains slated to MC
“We admire Ted Sarandos’ unique work in translating literature into an artful presentation on screen and his unwavering defense of free speech and satire,” PEN America said in a statement. “As an authors’ organization, we have followed recent events closely and understand his decision.”
Writers’ pickets have successfully disrupted production on a number of shows, including Showtime series Billions and Apple TV+ drama Severance. On Sunday, the MTV Movie & TV Awards became a pre-packaged affair after the WGA announced it would be holding the event. The WGA also announced Thursday that it will be demonstrating the commencement address that David Zaslav, CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, is scheduled to deliver on the Boston University campus on May 21.
One of the authors’ complaints is that their residual salary, a kind of royalty, has been impacted by the streaming. Years ago, TV show writers could receive residual payments each time a show was licensed, whether for syndication, overseas broadcast, or the sale of a DVD.
But streaming services like Netflix, which traditionally don’t license their programming, have cut off those distribution avenues. Instead, the services offer a fixed balance, which the authors say effectively lowered their salary. The AMPTP, which is negotiating on behalf of the studios, said last week that it had already offered increased final payments as part of the negotiations.
“According to WGA data, residuals hit an all-time high in 2022 — almost 45 percent came from streaming, the lion’s share of which came from Netflix,” said a Netflix spokeswoman.
“Regardless of the success of a show, Netflix pays residual amounts because our titles remain on our service,” the spokeswoman said, adding that this practice is different from network and cable TV.
Writers picketing outside Netflix headquarters in Los Angeles on Wednesday expressed their dismay that the company was beginning to make money from advertising.
“If they’re making money from advertising, my guess would be that advertising would become a bigger revenue stream for them,” said Christina Strain, author of the Netflix sci-fi spectacle Shadow and Bone. “And then we just work for network television without being paid by the network.”
Sapna Maheshwari contributed to the reporting.