What a week we had here at the EntStrategyGuy headquarters. The first two articles in my huge “Future of Film” series went better than I could have imagined. Sure, there was some pushback (I actually predicted the exact responses from a few people) but mostly, there was overwhelming love and support, which I really appreciate for how much work I put into it. (And I’m not close to finished; expect part III to come out next week.)
(Oh, there was also the deafening silence from certain media outlets owned by the same company. If you get a daily newsletter from one of those places, and notice that they NEVER link to my articles—in particular that series—shouldn’t you ask why? They link to Bloomberg or The Ringer or The NY Times. But me? Nada, zip, nothing. If that doesn’t make me the “indie rock band” of entertainment journalism [and I guess the major trade papers are the evil record labels] then I don’t know what does,…)
Anyways to get back on track, since the “Future of Film” series required countless hours of deep work hours from me, we’re gonna have an old-fashioned “strategy” column today. Later this week, I’ll publish a double issue of my streaming ratings report. (This week, for one time only, the report will go out to all subscribers as a sample to show why you really should subscribe.)
Most Important Story of the Week – WGA Votes to Authorize a Strike
You probably thought the consolidation of sports/sports entertainment companies, WWE/WME/UFC, into one company would take the top spot this week. And while that is a big deal, it doesn’t have the potential to literally stop the entire town from working, so we have to give WGA-AMPTP negotiations the prize.
Right now we’re in a bit of a no man’s land on WGA-AMPTP negotiation news. I don’t like responding to rumors, but most of the news is just that, rumors. (They’re going fine! They’ve gained no ground! They’re still negotiating over their planned break!) There’s not much actual news to report, except that the WGA is holding a strike authorization vote.
This move is as noteworthy as it was expected. It was expected because that’s what unions do (and should do) to give themselves negotiating leverage. But it’s notable because if an agreement isn’t reached…a strike happens!
Two quotes did stick out to me, though, that are worth exploring. First, this line, from the WGA:
“The survival of writing as a profession is at stake in this negotiation.”
Hyperbole is par for the course in negotiations like this, but this apocalyptic language doesn’t seem to match reality. (And might not be helpful.) I’m hesitant to say more, since I want to write a much longer, better-researched, very nuanced article on these negotiations later this month, but the best thing I read on this subject came from Variety’s Gene Maddeus, who wrote “Is Writer Pay Up or Down? Depends How You Look at It”. In this truly excellent piece, Maddeus explores the question through multiple charts and different angles, mostly coming to the conclusion that writer’s pay is probably flat over time, even accounting for inflation.
Do writers have legitimate concerns? Absolutely. And those concerns need to be addressed during these negotiations. But is the “survival of writing” at stake? Probably not.
Another quote stuck out to me from that LA Times article, “The WGA has proposed demands worth $600 million, including increases in minimum pay and increases in residual payments from streaming, along with increased contributions to its health and pension plans.”
My researcher—who’s been diving into all of this stuff for a while now—actually predicted this exact number to me a while back. He estimated that, if every active writer got around a $100,000 a year raise, it would net out to $600 million.
What worries me, as I wrote for the Ankler, is that detail about residuals. If you raise residual payments, will writers get paid more…or will more shows get pulled from streamers since it’s not profitable to pay residuals on movies and TV shows that no one is watching?
Negotiate smarter, not harder. Rob Long argued on the Ankler podcast two weeks ago that the WGA is always arguing for things ten to fifteen years too late. Going into these negotiations, that’s what I’d advise the WGA to consider.
Five pieces of advice for the WGA:
- Don’t focus on the last five streaming-focused, zero-interest-rate-driven years. Hedge your bets on what the future of media will look like.
- Don’t assume you know the future. Even now, the WGA says streaming is “the dominant form of entertainment” on their website. Right now, it’s a third of TV viewing and will grow in the future…but don’t assume that you know when and how this transition will take place. Don’t assume you know how the streamers will order shows in the future; it could change just as the last five years changed! (And I think it will!)
- Same goes for assuming you know future of theaters! (See next section.)
- Always remember that any ask has its own drawbacks and downsides, just like I wrote about with residuals. Again, when it comes to economics, the streamers and studios will optimize their future decisions based on the contract with the WGA is written.
- Lastly, one thing I do like: the WGA is right to oppose AI. I haven’t written much about AI yet, but this seems smart. (And, for now, a no-cost ask in negotiations.) This is the sort of forward-looking strategy move I would make if I were the guild.
Again, I’m still figuring out all my thoughts on this possible strike, what writers should ask for, what the companies can pay, so stay tuned! (No one seems to think they’ll be reaching a deal any time soon, so we have time.)
Almost Most Important Story of the Week – Substack and Twitter
Last week, I tweeted my most popular tweet ever, announcing the first article in my “Future of Film” series “The Data Is In: Theatrical Films Massively Outperform Straight-To-Streaming Films”
And while this tweet was doing so great for me, Elon Musk got mad at Substack and, sometime Thursday evening or Friday morning, Twitter began preventing tweets from being shared if they had Substack links in them, along with warning users that links to Substack could be dangerous, preventing Twitter embeds in Substack, and hiding Substack search results.
I have takes, but first, to quote Arrested Development, is my take business? Or is it personal?
In this case, both. My business take is that Elon Musk (finally) did something that could really, really hurt Twitter’s future, especially compared to the early, rather dire warnings from many people. (To be fair, alienating advertisers was equally as bad as this, possibly worse.)
This platform is driven by power users who, for free, give Twitter great content. If some non-negligible portion of Twitter power users migrates to Substack’s Notes app (especially since that’s where a lot of Twitter power users make money) or even just split their time between Substack Notes and Twitter, well, that’s a huge loss for Twitter.
And I think the power users will leave. Even though Twitter has already reversed course on some of these choices, they’ve damaged their relationship with a lot of folks. For business users, Twitter has shown itself to be unreliable, the death knell for a platform. If business customers think Twitter is run by a chaotic owner who can make snap, rash decisions to demonetize them at any time, they’ll make back up plans. Or shift their business elsewhere.
The “entertainment strategy” angle to this news story is to reinforce this old advice:
Diversify your revenue (and marketing) streams!
As Twitter shows, tech companies can be remarkably finicky and chaotic. What’s actually worse isn’t a company like Twitter (which has competition), but the platforms that gain full market share/monopoly power. Like when Google and Facebook courted newspapers and media outlets to embrace their platforms—often promising to save newspapers—then basically pulled the rug out from under them a few years later. Or companies like Apple courting developers to iOS, then dramatically underpaying them, changing terms of service, and so on, for years.
So that’s my message to entertainment companies, especially less powerful companies: diversify! Don’t have your whole business model rely on one platform.
This applies to me as well! This Twitter/Substack spat also gives me a chance to share my social media/distribution plans going forward. Right now, Entertainment Strategy Guy content is available in four different places.
- My Substack
- My website. (Which I’m keeping alive for all the reasons I detailed above. I love Substack right now, but I don’t trust any third-party site forever.)
- The Ankler
- LinkedIn. This is fast becoming my favorite social media platform, which often has the highest-quality engagement.
But the takeaway from the Substack/Twitter spat is that you always need to keep growing, diversify your revenue streams, and hedge your bets, so I need to add more. Here’s my plan:
- Podcasts. I’m hoping to be finally ready to podcast within a day or two. Check back in on Twitter/Substack Notes for an update. (For now, my plan is to just be a guest on other people’s podcasts.)
- Substack Notes. Yeah, I’m going to try this service out, but I won’t lie: I don’t love that Substack is basically becoming a social media company. Even though they have a different revenue model, I don’t think that solves social media’s biggest issues, the like button, overwhelming notifications and algorithmically-surfaced content.
- Facebook. Hopefully coming in May, I’m going to further expand my social media presence by one platform. As I wrote about for the Ankler last year, even though Twitter and TikTok are buzzier, Facebook is still one of the, if not the, most popular social media platforms out there. And I’ll be on it.
Most of my writing will come out each week in the newsletter or articles. But a few times a week, I’ll post mini-articles/threads (like I’ve been doing on Twitter) and links to articles I like on some social media platforms. The difference is that, before, Twitter was my primary marketing focus; now it will be even with LinkedIn, Notes, and eventually Facebook.
We’ll see what the impact of this is, long term, on Twitter. I enjoyed this long read by Max Read on whether or not people will pay subscriptions for social media, and I have to agree. Ben Dreyfuss also had a good article and his feelings are similar to mine, but his article also has his usual excellent prose.
Almost Most Important Story of the Week – WME Buys WWE to Pair With UFC
The rest of this post is for paid subscribers of the Entertainment Strategy Guy, so if you want to read my thoughts on WME buying WWE, the future of movie theaters,the latest M&A updates for Entertainment, the Oscars potential rule change, and more, please subscribe. We can only keep doing this great work with your support.