© 2024 88.9 KETR
Public Radio for Northeast Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Is the TV/film industry collapsing, or just reshaping itself for the future?


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. The movie and TV industries are in chaos. Striking actors and writers have shut down production. Broadcast TV lost viewers to cable. Then cable lost viewers to streaming TV. Now broadcast cable and many streaming platforms are in trouble. The movie industry is in trouble, too. People spend more time and money on video games than on movies and more time watching YouTube than any other TV network. Big media companies are merging with or buying other big media companies. Some of the companies that were bought may soon be sold. Just about every company in Hollywood has been cutting costs and laying off employees. Is the industry collapsing or just reshaping? And what does this mean for viewers and for the future of entertainment?

My guest, Lucas Shaw, is the managing editor for media and entertainment at Bloomberg and the author of the weekly newsletter Screentime. He spent more than a decade writing about how the world's largest technology companies have reshaped pop culture. Before we start the interview, I want to disclose that most of FRESH AIR's staff are members of SAG-AFTRA, but they're covered by a different contract than the actors. I'm a member of the actor's part of SAG because I've had several small parts on screen, mostly portraying myself.

Lucas Shaw, welcome to FRESH AIR. I think one way to show how movies and TV are changing is to look at who owns what. Which megacompanies are the biggest players, and what do they own? So can we do some, like, media genealogy? So why don't we start with Warner Bros. Discovery?

LUCAS SHAW: So Warner Bros. Discovery is the combination of three companies that used to be independent. There was Discovery Communications, which is best known for a bunch of cable networks, including its namesake - you know, generally lowbrow reality TV. There was Scripps Networks, which was another kind of bundle of cable networks that included HGTV, the Food Network. And then there's Time Warner, which is sort of the big one of them all, which is home to the Warner Bros. film and television studio, cable networks like TNT and TBS as well as HBO. And Time Warner has been through a lot of mergers over the years. You know, it was famously combined with AOL, then separated and then was acquired by AT&T, the phone company, turned into a division called WarnerMedia, then spun out of that and merged with Discovery into Warner Bros. Discovery.

GROSS: My head is spinning.

SHAW: I think the employees at those companies feel the same way.

GROSS: Let me just say here, we think of all these, you know, channels and companies that you mentioned as being these independent companies with their own identities. And now all the ones you just mentioned are merged into this one giant company. So do brands stop meaning anything?

SHAW: Well, we're in the middle of a great reshuffling of what brands mean, right? So for the past several decades, people watched TV by watching broadcast networks and cable networks. And those were brands that rose and mattered quite a bit. You know, in my childhood, that was Nickelodeon and MTV and ESPN and all these cable networks that became among the most sort of beloved brands for young people and people of all ages. And streaming and the rise of internet media has changed all that because the cable networks have started to decline, and so a lot of them are being sold off, being combined, being rebranded.

GROSS: So let's continue our genealogy and move to Disney.

SHAW: So Disney in the last 20 years or so bought Pixar, the animation studio. It bought Marvel, the comic book factory. It bought Lucasfilm, which is the company that made and owned all the "Star Wars" movies. And then a few years ago, it bought many entertainment assets from Rupert Murdoch from his Fox company, which included some major television studios, TV networks like FX as well as the movie studio.

GROSS: And Paramount Global - what do they own?

SHAW: Paramount Global owns everything from the CBS broadcast network to cable networks - MTV, Comedy Central, VH1. It's in the process of trying to sell BET, which it owns. And it's the combination of two companies - CBS and Viacom - which have been sort of put together and split apart over the years but are currently all one under the Redstone family, this time Shari Redstone, who's the daughter of legendary media mogul Sumner Redstone.

GROSS: So why is this happening now? Is this happening to please shareholders? Is this happening because companies just want the edge in the competition and they want as little competition as possible? What's this about?

SHAW: It largely stems from the slow collapse of cable television. So most of the biggest media and entertainment companies of sort of the prior generation - many of them today make a lot of their money, if not most of their money, from cable networks. So Paramount, which we talked about, makes most of its money from a bunch of cable networks. Disney doesn't make the majority, but it makes a lot of its money from cable networks. But the number of people who pay for cable or pay for satellite or other forms of television have been in decline for several years now, and the pace of that decline has picked up. Now, these cable networks make money from a couple of - in a couple of ways. They make money from the fees that they get from distributors like Comcast and Charter, and then they make money from advertising. The advertising market, after many, many years of increasing, has basically stopped growing. It's declined for some, but all the growth in advertising is in online media.

The money that they get from distributors is very affected because if you went from having 95 million people paying for your channel to now 80 or 75, that just - even if you get increases in the rate, you're just not going to make as much money from that. And so all these media companies saw sort of the writing on the wall for the business of cable TV. They're trying to manage that decline 'cause they still generate a lot of profit from it. But they have responded by both creating their own streaming services, which they see as sort of the future, mostly because of the success that Netflix has had, or then merging because they see opportunities to cut costs by combining people. They get more power in the marketplace. If you are negotiating with a Comcast and you own 20 cable networks instead of 10 cable networks, Comcast has a harder time pushing you around.

GROSS: If one company owns all these different channels and some of them are niche channels like Turner Classic Movies or HBO, how much does the parent company really care about the identity of individual channels? - 'cause it all just becomes about making profit and, you know, beating out the competition. So some things that are really valuable can't just be measured in profit and in measuring yourself against the metrics of other companies. So am I wrong to be worried about individual identities being slowly eradicated?

SHAW: I think it depends on which individual identities matter to you. So you're correct that a lot of these networks, brands that have been built up over the years that people may have some attachment to are going away or at least being starved, right? You know, a lot of these media companies have shifted resources from cable networks to streaming or are focusing resources on a few networks. So in the case of Warner Bros. Discovery, there was a moment in time where they were making original programming for TNT and TBS and some of those networks. They're not really doing that anymore. Or you - we've talked about Turner Classic Movies. That's a brand that they feel they've invested too much money in, and so they are cutting back the investment in a significant way.

You know, Disney has spoken recently. Bob Iger, the CEO, gave an interview in which he called his TV assets non-core, which was his way of saying they're for sale. And that means that a network that's been around for decades like ABC is potentially in play. And so if you - if that really matters to you, certainly for the employees at those companies, for some of the viewers, that's frightening. The counterargument to that is that new brands have been created, and so maybe if you really like Hulu or if you really like Disney+, that's sort of the replacement for what ABC has been for many decades.

GROSS: You write that Netflix and YouTube will soon account for as much TV viewing as all the broadcast networks combined. That's an amazing thing to think about.

SHAW: And the truth is that may already be happening. But the measure for that is this Nielsen measurement called The Gauge, which just measures viewership on television for the most part. So think about how much viewership of YouTube happens on a mobile device and the total amount of time viewing those two could already have exceeded. But Netflix and YouTube have really been the two companies over the last 10-plus years that certainly I've spent a bulk of my time writing about and that have completely revolutionized the entertainment and media business from two ends - you know, Netflix at the premium high end, very much like HBO, but breaking a lot of the rules of how the entertainment business has worked, and then YouTube at the lower end, creating this new generation of user-generated content that a lot of people like, and while we can dismiss it as low quality, you know, a lot of viewers feel otherwise.

GROSS: And YouTube, of course, is owned by Google. So we're back in the world of mega companies.

SHAW: Think about how big YouTube is - you know, billions of users, the most watched video service, really, in the world, the most used music service in the world. And it was small enough in the broader Google - or Alphabet, as the parent company is known - empire that they didn't even break out the revenue that they got from YouTube until a couple of years ago.

GROSS: You know what company we didn't mention - I don't think - is Amazon and what they own now.

SHAW: Amazon, like Netflix and like Apple, built its studio, really, from the ground up. They started more than a decade ago. You know, they have a video streaming service. They also have a store that sells other services, that allows you to rent movies. So it's sort of a hybrid original streaming service like a Netflix but with that retail component that we all associate Amazon with. And for the original service for Prime Video, they fund a lot of original television shows and movies. You know, some of their early hits were, like, "Transparent," "Mozart In The Jungle." They - one of their biggest hits now is a show called "Jack Ryan," and they have "The Boys." And then they recently bought MGM - you know, iconic Hollywood studio that operates in both film and television - for about $8.5 billion, and that is primarily to serve up, you know, intellectual property for exploitation across film and television. And it also will help Amazon release movies in theaters, which is something that they want to do that Netflix thus far doesn't really want to do.

GROSS: Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Lucas Shaw, and he covers the changing media landscape for Bloomberg News. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Lucas Shaw, who covers the media industry and its changing landscape for Bloomberg News. And we're talking about this changing media landscape in the film and TV industry, and that changing landscape is the backdrop for the writers and actors who are on strike now.

So let's get back to Disney. And to sum up, they own Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, ABC, FX and ESPN. And Bob Iger, the CEO, made it clear last week that he's thinking of selling their TV holdings. And as you said, he said they may not be core to Disney. So he's selling which assets and why? You mentioned ABC.

SHAW: He didn't specify what specifically he would sell. On ESPN, which has been the subject of intense speculation over many years - because ESPN was really the crown jewel of the cable bundle. It gets paid the most - or Disney gets paid the most by cable companies for it - you know, several dollars a month from everyone who has cable. But ESPN has been challenged as a result more than most by the decline, and Iger said that he would be open to a partnership.

It's important to note that Hearst already owns a chunk of ESPN. So Disney owns the majority and controls it, but it doesn't own 100%. So were it to sell to a partner but still want to control it, it's playing with about 30% of the company. There's been a lot of speculation as to who would or wouldn't be interested in owning ESPN or owning part of it. Is that something that tech companies like Apple and Amazon that are investing in sports would want a piece of? Is that something that gambling companies like DraftKings or FanDuel would want? Is it private equity? A little bit unclear.

GROSS: David Zaslav, who is the head of Warner Bros. Discovery - which owns a whole lot of stuff, as we described - he's seen by some people who cover the industry as being representative of the changes that the industry is going through now in television and film. So can you talk a little bit about his role in all of this? Like, what is he doing that is making him emblematic of these changes?

SHAW: Well, David Zaslav was, for a long time, sort of a member of the mogul class but with a relatively small empire, if you will. You know, Discovery Communications - you know, he got he got paid like he was a Bob Iger, you know, often getting 40, 50, $60 million a year. He went to all the right conferences. He had all the right friends. But his empire was small. And then he pulls off this pretty remarkable deal where he convinces AT&T to sell them WarnerMedia and he swallows the whole thing. The problem he has is that in doing that transaction, the resulting company has just a ton of debt, north of $50 billion. That's not all due right away - most of it's not. But over the long term, he's got to find a way to pay that down.

GROSS: Wait. Can I stop - you said 50 billion - right? - with a B?

SHAW: That is correct - 50 billion with a B.

GROSS: That's a lot of debt.

SHAW: It is a lot.

GROSS: OK. Yeah.

SHAW: And he's got still mostly all these cable networks that are at best stable, at worst declining. And he's got a streaming service - or two, really. He had Discovery Plus, which was his, and HBO Max, which were doing OK but hadn't got to the scale of a Netflix or a Disney Plus or an Amazon or even a Hulu, at least in terms of how much time people spent watching it. And so he has spent a lot of the last year and a half just cutting costs, and that has been firing workers. That has been shelving projects.

You know, he was the - in many ways the pioneer of this new strategy where people would take shows off streaming services. You know, we had gotten accustomed to the idea that shows would get released and live on the services forever. He yanked some of them down because you could save money that way. There were projects that they'd made, like this movie "Batgirl," that they did not release. And a lot of the creative community in Hollywood began to see Zaslav as a totem for everything that they thought was wrong with the business, that it had gotten too concentrated, that everything was about the bottom line, that nobody cared about the artist.

Now, the truth is that I think the business has functioned that way for a long time. But there's no question that there's been just sort of this existential dread and constant turmoil in the industry for many years, and he is a symbol of all of that. And he, along with Bob Iger from Disney, have become, you know, a couple of the quasi-villains in the labor dispute because they get paid so much money, they've cut all this staff, and it just doesn't seem like they're fully in touch with the regular worker in their business and they don't value the regular worker in their business.

GROSS: How big is Zaslav's salary?

SHAW: It varies by the year, but suffice it to say that he's earned more than $1 billion in salary over the course of his career, I believe. You know, there was one year recently where it was at least a couple of hundred million dollars. A lot of that was due to stock and the transaction that he executed. You know, these executives are very sensitive to criticism of this and will be quick to point out that, oh, well, some of it's based on stock and our stock is down, so I'm not actually going to get paid that much money. But David Zaslav has earned, you know, tens of millions of dollars a year for at least a couple of decades and has many, many homes. And, you know, I don't think anybody's going to worry about him or many generations of his family.

GROSS: Yeah. So he is incredibly wealthy, gets a huge salary, including stock options, yet he's, like, making thousands of people jobless. And the company, the parent company is now, you said, $50 billion in debt. Is he being applauded for that by shareholders?

SHAW: No. The response to the company last year - in 2022, the shares in the company dropped dramatically. You know, the value was pretty much eviscerated because there was such a negative response to where the company was headed. Now, it has bounced back to some extent this year, but it is still off, you know, by a considerable margin from when it went public. So - and that's tied into this larger skepticism about the future of these media companies because he's sitting on a bunch of networks that are not making more money. The advertising market is very shaky, and the confidence in their streaming service is not high.

You know, these companies went from many years of bragging about how much money that they were spending on new programming to build out these services to now bragging about how much money that they're cutting. And so I guess you could say that he has now cut enough that there's a little bit of confidence, but it's very hard to find a media company in which Wall Street has a lot of faith right now, with the exception of Netflix.

GROSS: But CEOs like Zaslav aren't being punished with salary cutbacks or - you know, we're $50 billion in debt, so we're going to cut, like, $10 million from your salary or something like that, while so many people are being laid off at the companies owned by the parent company.

SHAW: There are many people in Hollywood who have called for these executives to, if not cut their salary, forgo their entire salary and contribute that to some of these people who have been fired or laid off. Or it's certainly been a major talking point in both the writers' strike and the actors' strike where those workers have held up these salaries as a sign of how out of touch the executives are. You know, the executives would say that the - you know, the board approves it and the shareholders approve it, although in some cases the shareholders don't, and that there's no relation between their salary and some of these other moves.

GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you again. If you're just joining us, my guest is Lucas Shaw, and he covers the media for Bloomberg. We'll talk more about how the film and TV industry is changing and how that's affecting writers and actors who are striking now after we take a short break. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Lucas Shaw, who covers the media industry for Bloomberg. And we're talking about the changing landscape - the dramatically changing landscape in the movie and TV industry and how that's the backdrop for the current writers and actors strike in Hollywood.

Lucas, streaming was a great business when Netflix had the market kind of to itself. Now every channel and network seems to have a streaming app. How has that changed the playing field with so much competition?

SHAW: Well, Netflix and all these other streaming services debuted in an environment where shareholders were encouraging them to spend money for growth. Interest rates were low. Borrowing money was cheap. And so you saw across the media business - also across the technology business - this notion of delaying profits, not needing to show profitability now because you were trying to sort of build out your service. And that really played to Netflix's favor for many years. And a lot of these other companies tried to replicate that. The issue became, one, when they all went to copy Netflix, there was a lot of competition for attention. They are all spending more money than ever. You know, there was just an unprecedented increase in output. We went, I think, from about, you know, 200 scripted TV shows being released in 2009 to almost 600 last year, so to - effectively tripling it. And there's only a finite amount of attention, a finite amount of advertising dollars, finite amount of money that people can spend on that.

And so you had a lot of companies realize that they were not able to compete. And this happened around the same time or kind of in the same time zone as inflation and the macroeconomic picture turning a little bit. And that led investors to want these companies to show profitability. And so now they're all stuck in this really tricky position where they are far less profitable than they used to be at a time where that's what Wall Street's focused on, so their share prices are down. And there's no easy fix because streaming was supposed to be the solution, the savior. And it's not clear to anyone how that's going to work.

GROSS: One of the ways that Netflix is managing to still make a profit in spite of all the instability and change in the industry is that they're really a global company, and a lot of their profit comes from other countries. They're even making productions in other countries in other languages designed to be seen in those countries.

SHAW: Yeah, about two-thirds of Netflix's customers live outside of the U.S. and Canada. You know, they have a ton of customers across Europe, particularly Western Europe. They have a lot of customers in markets like Brazil and Mexico. They have a lot of customers in Australia and really growing customer bases in places like Japan and South Korea. And one of Netflix's - you know, I think maybe not innovations, but one of the things that I've appreciated the most about it for its many other flaws is that it has connected the world from a programming perspective. And so it has invested a lot of money in South Korea and in popularizing Korean dramas not just across Asia but around the world. They've - they now produce original programming, I think, in at least a couple of dozen countries.

And they've had titles, whether it's "La Casa De Papel," known in the U.S. as "Money Heist," or "Lupin" from France or, probably most famously, "Squid Game" from South Korea that have become something that everyone has watched. Now, the majority of people still watch programming in their own language, but Netflix has really taken advantage of and built up creative classes in these other countries. And it is to its advantage also from a financial perspective because the cost of making shows in a country like South Korea is considerably lower than it is in the U.S.

GROSS: Do you think subscription prices to Netflix will be changing again soon, that it will be raised even more?

SHAW: It has to be. I mean, they're - I don't think it's imminent. You know, they're in the process of getting rid of one of their cheapest tiers, which is kind of what's called the basic tier. But there's a lot of sensitivity around raising prices right now because of the competition and just because of inflation where there's concern that many people might choose to sign off. And if you think about it, you know, charging for password sharing is a way of raising prices. It's just raising prices on people who weren't paying before.

GROSS: I want to ask you about Amazon 'cause they're a big player in the movie industry now. And at the same time, I was surprised to read in your reporting how much money they've spent on films that were - or TV series that weren't successful. Like, we're talking, like, maybe a $250 million budget, which is what they spent for one season of the series "Citadel," which hardly cracked the top 10. So what's going on with how they're gambling on movies and those gambles aren't working out so well?

SHAW: Well, one of the byproducts of this - the initial exuberance and enthusiasm when it came to streaming was these companies - or the cost of making shows skyrocketed because you had new players like Netflix and Amazon that came in and had to convince famous writers and directors and actors to work with them. And the way of doing that was to pay them more than they were getting paid elsewhere. And you saw a lot of movie stars also then come into television 'cause suddenly you could get paid a million and a half an episode, $2 million an episode, $3 million an episode. Directors - you know, on the show "Citadel" you mentioned, Joe Russo, who along with his brother has worked on some big Marvel movies and they were producers on many other movies and TV shows - he's going to get paid $25 million or around $25 million for his work on the second season of "Citadel." That's a pretty great payday for, you know, six to eight episodes of work.

In the case of Amazon in particular, you know, I think that they have been caught between a couple of impulses where - early on in streaming, everyone seemed to want to validate what they were doing by making award-winning prestige TV like HBO. You know, Netflix famously said that they wanted to become HBO before HBO became Netflix, which I think they were fairly successful at doing. Amazon similarly funded a lot of prestige programming. But when you think about the core Amazon customer, it's not someone who lives in Los Angeles and New York. Sure, there are plenty of people who use Amazon there, but Amazon is really a mass market commerce service. A lot of their customers, you know, are not elite, not affluent. And so they had - they've tried to offer a mix of the prestige programming with your sort of more meat-and-potatoes type fare. And they've had a lot more success with the latter. But they've spent a lot of money with these shows that are sort of caught in between, if you will, or that should not have cost nearly as much. You know, over the last six to 12 months, they've released maybe a half-dozen shows that cost more than a hundred million dollars for a season, which is just a large amount of money, and maybe one or two of them could be considered successes in terms of viewership.

GROSS: Barry Diller, who founded Fox Broadcasting and USA Broadcasting, recently told Brooks Barnes, a reporter for The New York Times - and he was referring to Apple and Amazon, who now control a lot of the viewing - he said, you now have in control tech companies who haven't a care or clue about the entertainment business. For each of these companies, their minor business, not their major business, is entertainment. And yet, because of their size and influence, their minor interests are paramount in making any decision about the future.

So do you think that there's any truth to what he's saying, that, you know, with the power of Apple and the power of Amazon in the media industry now, in television and movies, that they're controlling a lot of the industry, but they're not really - they don't really care that much about movies and television, that they're tech companies and they're not entertainment companies?

SHAW: You know, Barry Diller, I feel like, has been declaring the death of Hollywood for a long time now, so I do take what he says with a little grain of salt. But he's right that the growth of Amazon and Apple, which I would say are now two of the six major studios in town - you know, they've replaced some of the other ones that have been consolidated in the deals that we've talked about - entertainment is not their primary business. And it speaks to maybe the lesser value of traditional film and television in broader culture, where it - so does the fact that YouTube is now bigger than any TV network, that if you - that TikTok is as popular as any streaming service.

You know, film and TV doesn't have the same stranglehold on culture and on youth that it used to. And it's - if I were running one of these traditional media and entertainment companies - running Warner Bros. Discovery, running Disney - it would certainly scare me that two of our biggest competitors don't care about making money from film and TV in the same way because it means that the stakes are lower. The approach is going to be different. And entertainment is just a means of selling something else - in Amazon's case, you know, diapers or books or whatever it is; in Apple's case, phones and other devices.

GROSS: Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more. If you're just joining us, my guest is Lucas Shaw, and he covers the media industry for Bloomberg. We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to the interview I recorded yesterday with Lucas Shaw, who covers the changing media industry for Bloomberg. And we're focusing on the movie and TV industry and how that whole industry has been in chaos.

Let's talk about the actors' strike and the writers' strike and how what they're asking for is in part a result of all of the changes that we've been talking about. Let's start by talking about the money end and how they want to share in the profits of successful films and TV shows that they make.

SHAW: Streaming changed how any profit participant or any person involved in a show got paid, where when Netflix came around, a big part of their model was that they were going to pay people more upfront but buy out what's known in the entertainment industry as the back end and sort of a share in profits. Because when you have a movie that comes out - say, "Mission: Impossible," which is out in theaters right now - Tom Cruise, who's the star of the movie, a producer in that movie, he gets a piece of the movie's revenue profits, that sort of thing, which is incredibly lucrative on a movie that's a big hit. I think, famously, Robert Downey Jr. for one of the "Iron Man" movies, you know, made tens of millions of dollars from his profit participation. The streaming model flipped that around and made it so you got paid more upfront but you didn't have the same benefit and success.

Now, in theory, this was supposed to benefit everyone more - right? - because they were treating every show like a success. But it also meant that when you had a huge hit, maybe you didn't get as much, or because there was less transparency around viewership that you didn't have the data to understand what was happening with your project. And so there are all these things that Netflix introduced that people now look back on and sort of regret agreeing to, or at least that's a central point that they're pushing for in these negotiations.

GROSS: What else can we understand about the strikes from the kind of cast in the film and TV industry that we've been talking about and the reshaping of it?

SHAW: Well, one of the reasons that I think you're seeing this labor stoppage is that you have workers in this industry who feel that they're being taken advantage of. You know, there's been this incredible increase in output in film and television. That means that there's been more strain on the workers than ever before because they're making three times as much television and a lot more movies. And they don't feel like they're getting paid as much money because the money's probably getting spread around to more different people. And the people at the top are still doing incredibly well, but for the most part, the people in the middle and the bottom aren't doing quite as well. Some of that's related to kind of how residuals work and people - how people are paid for reruns that streaming has reshaped.

At the same time, you have these media companies which are saying, we're losing money on these streaming services. You're asking for these huge increases in pay and we can't give them to you because we are trying to make our businesses work. And so the negotiations and these contracts came up at a very kind of dangerous time for these two sides, both of which feel aggrieved.

GROSS: I think both sides in the strike agree that the industry is in a perilous time. COVID shut everything down. And everybody on both sides of this strike were trying to recover from that and hoping that the industry would recover. So now with the strikes, everything is shut down again. It seems like that would be incentive for both sides to remain at the table and try to settle this, so that the industry can start springing back again. Why isn't that a strong enough incentive to come to an agreement?

SHAW: Well, for - in the case of the actors, I think they spent some time trying to reach a deal with the studios. And it became apparent that they were too far apart. And once you go on strike or once you make the decision to do so, you've got to spend at least a few weeks trying to apply pressure to the other person and see if that will make them come back to the table and change their minds.

You're right that long labor stoppage - especially coming out of COVID, especially given all of the other problems in the industry that we've talked about - is not good for anyone. You know, there's almost a guarantee that there'll be, say, a big hole in the movie release calendar next summer. That's not going to benefit anyone. All these streaming services, they're going to be low on programming next year, depending on how long the strike goes on. That's not going to benefit anyone. Obviously, all these writers, actors and directors, even though they made a deal, because there's not a lot of production to do, these people are all out of work. They're not making money.

But I think the - on the guild and on the union side, they feel like this is their moment and they have to draw a line on the sand. They've seen, you know, the impact of streaming over the last many years and feel that they have not reaped enough benefits from it. You know, the last time the writers went on strike, it was at the very beginning of the streaming business, 2007, 2008, just as Netflix and Hulu were coming out. And so, in effect, this one serves as sort of a coda to that era of this boom in streaming, where now everyone wants to figure out how they can get paid more effectively.

For the media companies, I think part of the issue is that, in the short term, they actually benefit a little bit from there being a strike because they are not spending a lot of money to produce shows. Now, that's short-term thinking. It doesn't benefit them in the long term. And that doesn't apply to every company. But if you're a Bob Iger or a David Zaslav and you're really worried about costs, you know, not having to make TV shows for a couple of months isn't the worst thing in the world. That doesn't mean I think they want a strike, but it means that the downside to taking a couple of months off isn't as great as it might have been when they were trying to launch a service a couple of years ago.

GROSS: So do you think this will have long-term effects on how TV networks and cable program themselves?

SHAW: It could. You know, I was talking with a senior executive at one of these companies recently. And maybe some of the experiments that they're trying in prime time on a network, it works, and they carry on, you know? If a network has 90 minutes of "Survivor" and people watch it, do they keep a 90-minute version of that? You know, the part that I would be scared about for some of these companies is the viewership for a lot of these shows has already been in decline, right? And so if you have the late-night shows - you know, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert - and they've been off since the writers' strike started. They're off for months. How many of those viewers never come back?

GROSS: Right. You create other habits.

SHAW: Yeah, whether it's TikTok and YouTube or whether they start to watch something on Netflix instead. You know, you look at the - Netflix's share of TV viewership in June hit an all-time high. Is that because people are spending a little bit less time watching linear TV? Certainly could be.

GROSS: Well, Lucas, I want to thank you so much for talking with us. And thanks for your coverage of media and the changing landscape.

SHAW: Thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure.

GROSS: Lucas Shaw is the managing editor for media and entertainment at Bloomberg and the author of the weekly newsletter Screentime. After we take a short break, book critic Maureen Corrigan will recommend two books for summer reading. This is FRESH AIR.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.