The WGA Strike is About a Lot More Than Just Money

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
The WGA Strike is About a Lot More Than Just Money
Evan Xie

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Thursday is Day 3 of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike, and so far, neither side seems particularly ready to budge.

Studios and media companies did what they could to put on a brave face and go about business as usual. On his company’s Q1 earnings call on Thursday, Paramount Global CEO Bob Bakish suggested that the company has stored up sufficient “content in the can,” and assured investors that streaming subscribers and movie fans “won’t notice anything for a while.” HBO, meanwhile, announced that production on Season 2 of “House of the Dragon” – which kicked off on April 11 at the UK’s Leavesden Studios – will move forward during the strike.


While writers and even movie nerd websites jumped on the news that the US entertainment industry have collectively lost more than $10 billion in value since the start of the strike, others were quick to point out that it was part of a general stock market dip that was likely responding to multiple economic variables.

It’s unclear how long the industry will be able to maintain this facade. As many WGA members pointed out on social media – including HBO veteran and “The Wire” creator David Simon – writing work doesn’t end when the scripts are turned in, but continues throughout production and even post-production on a major TV series like “House of the Dragon.”

As with that strike 15 years ago, the negotiations between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) revolve around much more than just higher wages. The slow death of linear and cable TV and the rise of streaming services have fundamentally altered just about every aspect of the entertainment business, and these strikes are as much about how writers go about their work and how they fit into the larger TV landscape as they are specifics of residual percentage points. WGA leaders told Variety this week that the real sticking point is not wages, but studios refusing to accept “structural change” to their hiring and employment practices.

TV showrunners express concern about streaming's "gig economy" hiring practices

To that end, the Los Angeles Times published a roundtable discussion this week among a group of TV showrunners, which shed some light about the changes brought about by streaming and their concerns for the future. There was general agreement among the group that new players like Amazon, Netflix, and Apple have a different vision for producing entertainment content than the Hollywood studios of the prior generation, taking a less artistic and more data-driven approach.

“Scrubs” and “Ted Lasso” veteran Bill Lawrence notes “they’re so streamlined, these companies, into corporate entities, where I feel like in old times they were at least inhabited by, if not artists, art lovers.” These concerns have a practical side as well, beyond just a general sense of disinterest about churning out a quality product.

“Swarm” showrunner Janine Nabers notes that the streamers’ “gig economy” approach to hiring writers – bringing them in for just a few weeks to knock out scripts for abbreviated TV seasons – threatens the entire future of the industry. Without secure full-time jobs that allow up-and-coming writers to learn the ropes, experience what it’s like to be on set, and personally shepard a show through the creative process, how are we to train the showrunners of tomorrow?

Lawrence agrees, noting that he was personally mentored by iconic “Family Ties” creator Gary Goldberg. Without that experience, would he have had the savvy and knowhow to produce “Ted Lasso” for Apple in the first place, and turn it into one of TV’s most acclaimed shows?

[On Thursday, the AMPTP responded specifically to this “gig economy” criticism, noting that writers enjoy guaranteed employment terms and benefits that help to distinguish their jobs from typical “gig” jobs like food delivery or ride-sharing.]

Streaming’s data-driven approach clashes with traditional creative decision-making

A recent Deadline interview with “Ghosted” director Dexter Fletcher also highlights the chasm between how the conventional entertainment industry approached creative decision-making vs. a newer entrant like Apple. (The film is a romantic action-comedy starring Chris Evans and Ana de Armas; it hit Apple TV+ in April and has become one of the streamer’s most popular originals.)

According to Fletcher, he pitched a creative opening sequence for the film, inspired by the 1978 Goldie Hawn-Chevy Chase film “Foul Play.” While it’s easy to imagine a classic archetypal Hollywood producer (think Al Pacino in Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) closing their eyes, envisioning the scene, and agreeing to the budget over martinis at Musso & Frank… Apple executives said no based purely on data.

“They said you can’t do it because if it [the opening sequence] goes on and something doesn’t happen in the first 30 seconds, we know the data shows that people will just turn off,” Fletcher told Deadline. “I don’t want that, so I make the compromise.”

The assembly line approach to creating content raises more questions about the viability of AI replacing screenwriters

This strikes at the fundamental sea change we’ve seen in the industry over the past few decades, going from leadership that demanded profits but still viewed films as fundamentally customized, bespoke products to more of a scale-focused, factory-and-assembly line paradigm. Naturally, this is where the new push for using AI to replace writers enters the picture.

Despite lengthy and passionate threads from investors and enthusiasts, it seems increasingly unlikely that software like ChatGPT is going to entirely replace screenwriters any time soon. A viral tweet from conservative commentator Ben Shaprio, apparently intended to demonstrate ChatGPT’s ability to write a coherent TV scene, had the exact opposite effect, highlighting the software’s inability to compose a coherent, even mildly amusing sitcom joke.

But the goal, at least short-term, might not be to have AI take over for Shonda Rhimes. If you’re a tech company thinking about producing media as simply another assembly line, the idea could be to replace just some workers on the line with robots, while keeping other human staffers around.

WGA Negotiating Committee member Adam Conover – the host of TLC’s “Adam Ruins Everything” – explicitly voiced these fears to Deadline this week. “I don’t think you’ll ever truly be able to replace the work of a writer but I don’t put it past these companies to try and cook up some cockamamie scheme where they have an output text and hire writers to rewrite it or something like that,” he said. “I think the public will hate it. I think it’d be a financial failure, but I think they might try and they could hurt a lot of writers by doing so.”

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🏰 Disney's Epic Investment Stands Out Amidst Gaming Industry Layoffs

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

🔦 Spotlight

In the midst of widespread gaming industry layoffs, a glimmer of positive news emerges as Disney announces a significant move: a $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games. 🏰💰🐭

Image Source: Disney

Disney's $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games, disclosed late Wednesday, signals a strategic alignment aimed at expanding the success of "Fortnite." The deal enhances Epic's growth prospects after financial setbacks, including layoffs, and strengthens the partnership between the two companies. With Disney gaining a larger equity stake in Epic, the collaboration will broaden the integration of beloved Disney franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Avatar into the game, potentially boosting its appeal and longevity. This significant investment underscores Disney's commitment to interactive entertainment and signifies a shift towards games as a primary revenue stream, aligning with the growing trend of digital engagement among younger demographics. Moreover, the potential for crossover sales of physical Disney products within "Fortnite" and the exploration of new content distribution channels are just some of the opportunities arising from this partnership.

For LA tech, the Disney-Epic Games partnership represents a validation of the region's burgeoning tech and gaming ecosystem. The substantial investment in Epic, who maintains a large Los Angeles office with 1,000+ employees (according to LinkedIn), reflects confidence in the LA’s talent pool and innovation potential. Additionally, this partnership between two industry giants fosters an environment for further collaboration, investment, and growth within LA's tech sector. As Disney and Epic Games deepen their ties and explore new avenues for content integration and distribution, it not only elevates the prominence of LA as a tech hub but also stimulates economic growth and job creation in the region. This partnership highlights LA's unique position as a hub where technology and entertainment converge. With its ability to integrate diverse industries, LA is driving innovation and expansion in digital entertainment. 🚀💸🎮

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • ProducePay, a financing and marketplace platform for the fresh produce market, raised a $38M Series D led by Syngenta Group Ventures joined by Commonfund, Highgate Private Equity, G2 Venture Partners, Anterra Capital, Astanor Ventures, Endeavor8, Avenue Venture Opportunities, Avenue Sustainable Solutions, and Red Bear Angels. - learn more
  • Blush, an invite-only dating app that drives users to local businesses on dates, raised a $7M Seed Round from individuals like Naval Ravikant. - learn more
  • Mogul, a startup founded last year that provides an overview of an artist's royalty earnings and identifies areas where money is owed but has not yet been collected, raised a $1.9 million seed round from Wonder Ventures, United Talent Agency, AmplifyLA, and Creator Partners. - learn more
  • Avnos, a hybrid direct air capture startup, raised a $36M Series A led by NextEra Energy and joined by Safran Corporate Ventures, Shell Ventures, Envisioning Partners, and Rusheen Capital Management. - learn more
  • AI.fashion, startup whose mission is to help retailers enhance the online shopping experience by providing consumers with virtual try-ons and personalized fashion recommendations, raised a $3.6M Seed Round led by Neo. - learn more
  • Suma Wealth, startup that aims to demystify financial topics and provide culturally relevant content, virtual experiences, and resources to help Latino users navigate financial challenges and opportunities, raised a $2.2M Seed Round . Radicle Impact led, and was joined by Vamos Ventures, OVO fund and the American Heart Association Impact Fund. - learn more
  • 222, a startup that helps users discover their city and meet new people through unique social experiences, raised a $2.5M Seed Round. Investors included 1517 Fund, General Catalyst, Best Nights VC, Scrum Ventures, and Upfront Ventures. - learn more
  • LimaCharlie, a security operations cloud platform, raised a $10.2M Series A led by Sands Capital. - learn more
  • Polycam, an app that uses a smartphone’s sensors to capture 3D scans of objects, raised an $18M Series A co-led by Left Lane Capital and Adjacent, and joined by Adobe Ventures and individuals like Chad Hurley and Shaun Maguire. -learn more.

LA Venture Funds

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a startup building software to decarbonize logistics for logistics businesses and goods business through a vetted marketplace and optimization software. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $1.5M Pre Seed Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

Venture Waves, Climate Tech Wins, and Silicon Beach's Ongoing Evolution

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Anduril Seeks $1.5B in VC Funds

Defense company Anduril Industries Inc., based in Costa Mesa and founded by Palmer Luckey, is seeking to raise $1.5 billion in fresh funds to boost its valuation to $12.5 billion or more, according to sources quoted by The Information. This fundraising effort, if successful, would mark one of the largest venture capital rounds of the year.

Image Source: Anduril

Anduril recently secured a contract to develop and test small unmanned fighter jet prototypes under the Air Force’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program, beating out major defense companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Alongside General Atomics, Anduril will design, manufacture, and test these aircraft, with a final multibillion-dollar production decision expected in fiscal year 2026. This program aims to deliver at least 1,000 combat aircraft to fly in concert with manned platforms and is part of the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance initiative. Central to Anduril’s success in this contract is the Fury autonomous air vehicle, acquired through the purchase of Blue Force Technologies. This victory underscores Anduril's rapid advancement in the defense sector, aligning with Luckey's vision of building faster and more cost-effective defense assets. - learn more

Los Angeles Ranks Number 1 in Emerging Climate Tech Hub

The 2024 Emerging Climate Tech Hubs Report by Revolution highlights Los Angeles as a burgeoning center for climate tech innovation. LA's growth in this sector is driven by its diverse talent pool, strong research institutions, and a culture of environmental consciousness. The city's unique mix of legacy industries, such as entertainment and aerospace, alongside emerging tech companies, positions it as a pivotal player in the climate tech landscape. This shift reflects a broader trend of decentralized climate tech funding across the U.S., reducing the historical dominance of California's traditional hubs. - learn more

Silicon Beach: Looking Back, Moving Forward

Assessing the overall health of the startup market is challenging, especially as venture capital funding has decreased by an average of 61% from 2021 to 2023 across the top VC markets in the US. Markets with robust ecosystems in AI, SaaS, Biotech, Healthtech, and Fintech appear to be weathering the downturn better than those focused on Consumer and Gaming industries, areas where Los Angeles traditionally excels.

Percent Change In VC Funding By Region

CB Insights

LA Times paints a rather bleak outlook on the Los Angeles tech scene noting venture capital funding in Greater Los Angeles plummeted 73% from 2021 to 2022. Silicon Beach, once a vibrant tech corridor, currently faces high vacancy rates and lacks late-stage financiers, especially in the AI sector. However, there are positive signs, including growth in aerospace startups and increased venture capital investment in early 2024, suggesting a potential rebound for LA's tech ecosystem.

While LA may not be exceeding expectations during this period, its tech ecosystem warrants a nuanced evaluation, given the broader market dynamics and its strong performance in specific sectors. Reach out to us with your thoughts.

🚀 SpaceX gears up for another stellar year, active raises, and more

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Happy Friday Los Angeles! You made it through the first week of 2024!

🔦 Spotlight

Elon Musk may be a divisive (albeit entertaining) figure, but the continued success of SpaceX is pivotal for the aerospace industry in Los Angeles and more broadly around the world.

Image Source: SpaceX webcast

What happened with SpaceX in 2023?

  • Elon Musk challenged Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg to a cage fight.
  • SpaceX launched 96 successful missions with its Falcon series of rockets, a 57% increase over its previous annual record.
  • SpaceX conducted two test flights of the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, Starship.
  • Roughly two-thirds of SpaceX's launches in 2023 were devoted to building out Starlink, the company's satellite-internet megaconstellation.
  • Isaacson’s Elon Musk biography was published in September including everything from Musk’s tumultuous relationship with his father to his work ethic and “demon mode”.

Moving forward what can we expect from SpaceX and its controversial founder? Continued innovation pushing the aerospace industry to new limits? Yes. More drama? Without a doubt.

Here is some of what is to come in 2024:

🤝 Venture Deals

Just Announced

Check back next week!

LA Exits

  • CG Oncology, an Irvine, CA-based developer of immunotherapies for bladder cancer, filed for a $100M IPO. It plans to list on the Nasdaq (CGON) with Morgan Stanley as left lead underwriter, and has raised around $317m in VC funding. - learn more
  • McNally Capital agreed to sell Advanced Micro Instruments, a Costa Mesa, CA-based maker of gas analyzers and sensing technologies, to Enpro (NYSE: NPO). - learn more

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a hard-tech startup that is developing a technology for decarbonizing natural gas, is raising a $1.5M Seed Round. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $250K Angel Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

📅 LA Tech Calendar

Sunday, January 7th

Wednesday, January 10th

  • Startup Cafe: Networking with a Kick - Entrepreneurs, Startups, and Tech Enthusiasts join together to meet and connect with like-minded people, industry professionals and investors, while enjoying a nice cup of coffee in Venice at The KINN. This week’s interactive discussion about AI’s evolution in entertainment will feature Dr. Sam Khoze and Rachel Joy Victor.
  • Venice Tech Happy Hour- Join Startup Coil and FoundrHaus Wednesday evening and enjoy the sunset from the rooftop, grab a bite overlooking Abbot Kinney, and mingle with other tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs by the bar on the patio.

Have an awesome event coming up? Reach out to be featured on next week’s Newsletter!

📙 What We’re Reading

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