How Big Tech Put Itself in the Middle of Hollywood's Biggest Labor Battle in Years

Harri Weber

Harri is dot.LA's senior finance reporter. She previously worked for Gizmodo, Fast Company, VentureBeat and Flipboard. Find her on Twitter and send tips on L.A. startups and venture capital to harrison@dot.la.

How Big Tech Put Itself in the Middle of Hollywood's Biggest Labor Battle in Years
Photo by Cameron Venti on Unsplash

As giants like Apple, Netflix and Disney spend big on streaming content and fight for subscribers, their apps are supplanting theaters, premium cable, reruns and even the humble DVD box set.

The shake up was evident at the 2021 Emmy Awards, where streaming services swept the top categories with shows that included "The Crown" and "Ted Lasso." But as Scarlett Johansson made clear in a just-settled lawsuit against Disney, Hollywood's transformation is also upending the way talent gets paid — and that's hitting everyone from the A-list actors to the technicians who haul 50-pound cameras on their backs.


The issue could even grind Hollywood production to a halt, as streaming's rise and the pandemic flare tensions across the industry. What happens next hinges on how a crucial labor battle plays out in the coming days and weeks between behind-the-scenes workers and some of the most powerful corporations on the planet.

Big Tech and the Strike Authorization Vote

The union behind the workers who operate cameras, dress actors, build sets and clean toilets — the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) — will vote over the weekend on whether to authorize a strike amid protracted contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Some of the biggest names in tech, including Apple, Netflix and Amazon (which bought MGM), have a seat at the table alongside AMPTP's major studios. That means their lawyers sit opposite of IATSE union members in negotiations over pay and working conditions.

"We are united in demanding more humane working conditions across the industry, including reasonable rest during and between workdays and on the weekend, equitable pay on streaming productions, and a livable wage floor," said IATSE President Matt Loeb earlier this month, alluding to the reports of grueling 14-hour workdays faced by crews.

IATSE wants to boost what they're paid for streaming projects, some of which are still discounted from the "basic rates" that traditional film and television projects pay. The union also wants streaming providers to pay higher residual rates to fund their healthcare and pension. The terms under negotiation were established more than a decade ago, when beaming original content to your laptop was an experiment of uncertain profitability.

But those discounted rates are still in play today, "even on productions with budgets that rival or exceed those of traditionally released blockbusters," according to IATSE. The streaming rates outlined in current contracts reportedly made it possible for Apple, a $2.3 trillion company, to trim behind-the-scenes workers' paychecks. Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

"AMPTP says that they do not want to be forced to pay our pension plan fair residuals on streaming because it is an 'experiment' (their words). An unproven revenue stream. Which, lmao, maybe they didn't watch the Emmys," Ian Edwards, a digital imaging technician in IATSE Local 600, told dot.LA in a direct message.

Working on a streaming show like "'The Mandalorian' as an experimental streaming property, can be much harder than working on 'Two and a Half Men' on stage, which pays proper residuals," said Andy Kennedy-Derkay, 2nd assistant cameraperson and IATSE member. "It's just ludicrous to think of things this way – as if we are shooting a web series, when we are making the most expensive television shows ever produced." Current streaming residuals are "infinitesimally small in comparison to the purchase of a DVD," he said in a call with dot.LA.

'Critical' Condition

IATSE workers depend on those shrinking residuals to fund their pension, which is nearing "critical" condition under federal law, according to Deadline. It's currently 68.9% funded, and as residuals from DVDs and other secondary markets decline, streaming giants do not appear interested in picking up the slack.

"One of the issues with streaming is there really isn't that natural second market there," Todd Holmes, assistant professor of entertainment media management at California State University, Northridge, said in a call with dot.LA. "So in terms of residuals, there's really not a structure set in place right now for people that are members of IATSE to get any kind of money, because a lot of these things are Netflix originals. That's a problem," Holmes added.

If a film goes straight to Netflix and stays there, how would residuals even work?

"The data is there," said Holmes. "Netflix and everything, they keep their information very much under lock and key, but they have access to that information. They know, certainly, the number of streams and they have a lot of consumer data, so there are ways to determine the residuals. It's just so far the AMPTP, they haven't wanted to include that in part of the equation."

AMPTP said last week that it is "committed to reaching an agreement at the bargaining table that balances the needs of both parties and will keep the industry working."

The trade group warned that a strike would jeopardize two crucial elements of the negotiations: workers' health care and retirement, telling Deadline: "A strike will have a devastating impact on the industry and inevitably will result in thousands of IATSE members losing their income, failing to qualify for health insurance benefits, jeopardizing funding for the pension plan and disrupting production."

A number of factors are contributing to IATSE's leverage over the major studios, including the growing demand for streaming and a production backlog caused by the pandemic. The union also has support from more than 100 members of Congress, as well as celebrities like Seth Rogan, Cynthia Nixon and LeVar Burton.

Between October 1 and October 3, members will vote on whether to allow IATSE President Loeb to call a strike. The results of the vote will be announced the following day. If workers authorize a strike, the vote will be used as a bargaining chip in the ongoing talks. It's not clear how long a strike would last if one is called.

"Do I think it'll work? Yeah I think it'll work. And I think that in all likelihood when push comes to shove, if they decide to allow us to strike, they are going to get a wake-up call of what a powerful union can do and I think it will blow up in their face," said Kennedy-Derkay.

"We're used to going through hard times," he added. "Crew members go through hard times every time they accept a job. The people who work for 70 hours a week for eight months, who don't see their families, whose health and mental well being crumbles — they make incredible films and television and they show up every single day and give their 100% to craft the vision of the people they're collaborating with. We know how to grind. We would much rather grind at a stage than at a picket line. But I have tremendous confidence that we will stand strong."

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Cadence

Derek Jeter’s Sports Trading Card Company Brings in $10M

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

sports trading cards
Arena Club /Andria Moore

Sports trading card platform Arena Club has raised $10 million in Series A funding.

Co-founded by CEO Brian Lee and Hall of Fame Yankees player Derek Jeter, Arena Club launched its digital showroom in September. Through the platform, sports fans can buy, sell, trade and display their card collections. Using computer vision and machine learning, Arena Club allows fans to grade and authenticate their cards, which can be stored in the company’s vault or delivered in protective “slabs.” Arena Club intends to use the new cash to expand these functions and scale its operations.

The new funding brings Arena Club’s total amount raised to $20 million. M13, defy.vc, Lightspeed Ventures, Elysian Park Ventures and BAM Ventures contributed to the round.

“Our team is thankful for the group of investors—led by M13, who see the bright future of the trading card hobby and our platform,” Lee said in a statement. “I have long admired M13 and the value they bring to early-stage startups.”

M13’s co-founder Courtney Reum, who formed the early-stage consumer technology venture firm in 2016 alongside his brother Carter Reum, will join Arena Club’s board. Reum has been eyeing the trading card space since 2020 when he began investing in what was once just a childhood hobby.

The sports trading card market surged in 2020 as fans turned to the hobby after the pandemic brought live events to a standstill. Since then, prices have come down, though demand remains high. And investors are still betting on trading card companies, with companies like Collectors bringing in $100 million earlier this year. Fanatics, which sells athletic collectibles and trading cards, reached a $31 billion valuation after raising $700 million earlier this week. On the blockchain, Tom Brady’s NFT company Autograph lets athletes sell digital collectibles directly to fans.

As for Arena Club, the company is looking to cement itself as a digital card show.

“Providing users with a digital card show allows us to use our first-class technology to give collectors from all over the world the luxury of being able to get the full trading card show experience at their fingertips,” Jeter said in a statement.

Airbnb Is Expanding Short-Term Rentals in LA, but Hosts Likely Still Won’t Profit

Amrita Khalid
Amrita Khalid is a tech journalist based in Los Angeles, and has written for Quartz, The Daily Dot, Engadget, Inc. Magazine and number of other publications. She got her start in Washington, D.C., covering Congress for CQ-Roll Call. You can send tips or pitches to amrita@dot.la or reach out to her on Twitter at @askhalid.
LA house

L.A.’s lax enforcement of Airbnbs has led to an surge of illegal short-term rentals — even four years after the city passed a regulation to crack down on such practices. But what if hosts lived in a building that welcomed Airbnb guests and short-term rentals?

That’s the idea behind Airbnb’s new push to expand short-term rental offerings. The company is partnering with a number of corporate landlords that agreed to offer “Airbnb-friendly” apartment buildings, reported The Wall Street Journal last week. According to the report, the new service will feature more than 175 buildings managed by Equity Residential, Greystar Real Estate Partners LLC and 10 other companies that have agreed to clear more than 175 properties nationwide for short-term rentals.

But prospective hosts in Los Angeles who decide to rent apartments from Airbnb’s list of more than a dozen “friendly” buildings in the city likely won’t earn enough to break even due to a combination of high rents, taxes and city restrictions on short-term rentals. Rents on one-bedroom apartments in most of the partnered buildings listed soared well over $3,000 a month. Only a few studios were available under the $2,000 price range. If a host were to rent a one bedroom apartment with a monthly rent of $2,635 (which amounts to $31,656 annually), they would have to charge well over the $194 average price per night for Los Angeles (which amounts to $23,280 per year) according to analytics platform AllTheRooms.

Either way, residents who rent one of these Airbnb friendly apartments still have to apply for a permit through the City of Los Angeles in order to host on Airbnb.

“[..Airbnb-friendly buildings] seems like a good initiative. However, from a quick look, it seems that given the rent, Airbnb revenue wouldn’t be enough to cover all expenses if the host follows the city’s policy,” says Davide Proserpio, assistant professor of marketing at the USC Marshall School of Business.

In addition, since L.A.’s 120-day cap on short-term rentals still applies to the buildings on Airbnb’s listing platform, that greatly limits the number of longer-term guests a resident can host. Not to mention, some of the buildings that Airbnb lists have even shorter limits – The Milano Lofts in DTLA for example only allows residents to host 90 nights a year.

Airbnb’s calculations of host earnings may be greatly misleading as well, given that the estimate doesn’t include host expenses, taxes, cleaning fees or individual building restrictions. For example, Airbnb estimates that a resident of a $3,699 one bedroom apartment at the Vinz in Hollywood that hosts 7 nights a month can expect $1,108 a month in revenue if they host year-round. But the Vinz only allows hosts to rent 90 days a year, which greatly limits the potential for subletters and a consistent income stream.

Keep in mind too that since the apartment will have to serve as the host’s “primary residence”, hosts will have to live there six months out of the year. All of which is to say, it’s unclear how renting an apartment in an “Airbnb-friendly” building makes hosting easier — especially in a city where illegal short-term rentals already seem to be the norm.

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The Streamys Reveals The Disconnect Between Online Creators and Traditional Media

Kristin Snyder

Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.

tiktok influencers around a trophy ​
Andria Moore /Charli D'Amelio/Addison Rae/JiDion

Every year, the Streamy Awards, which is considered the top award show within the creator economy, reveals which creators are capturing the largest audiences. This past Sunday, the event, held at The Beverly Hilton, highlighted some of the biggest names in the influencer game, chief among them Mr. Beast and Charli D’Amelio. It had all the trappings of a traditional award show—extravagant gowns, quippy acceptance speeches and musical interludes. But, as TikTok creator Adam Rose told The Washington Post, the Streamys still lacks the legitimacy of traditional award shows.

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