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Hollywood’s Writer Stand-off: It’s Not Just About Money

Photo: Barbara Davidson/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Jonathan Handel
April 30, 2023

Information asymmetry: in bloody wars or heated contract negotiations, when one side possesses key data the other doesn’t, the impact can be decisive. That’s why spies and cryptographers thrive. It’s also why the Hollywood labor guilds pushed for transparency in “new media” data even before the streaming wars of the past decade. (The 2008 union contracts required confidential disclosure of license agreements.) It’s why the Directors Guild engages media analysts to inform its negotiations. And it’s one reason that the Writers Guild’s recent campaign against the talent agencies included information-sharing requirements. Knowledge is indeed power. 

With a WGA strike looking like it could begin as early as this week, let’s analyze the standoff through an information lens and try to discern what each side—and the public—really knows about writer pay, viewer consumption of their work, and media company profits. These are the most pertinent questions when considering what’s a “fair” deal for the writers.