With Streaming Platforms Circumventing Residual Payments, 2023 May Be the Year of the Next Writers Strike

Ilana Gordon
Ilana Gordon is an entertainment, culture, and tech writer originally from Connecticut. She currently lives in Los Angeles.
With Streaming Platforms Circumventing Residual Payments, 2023 May Be the Year of the Next Writers Strike
Photo by Liam Edwards on Unsplash

Last week, Warner Bros. Discovery announced plans to rehome 10 of their HBO original series, yanking the titles off the platform and moving them over to third-party FAST (free, ad-supported, streaming television) services. The relocation of these shows – which include premium offerings like Westworld, as well as smaller, cult favorites like Made For Love and Gordita Chronicles – represents a seismic shift in streamer programming etiquette, and an industry-wide pivot towards belt-tightening.


This recommitment to Premium Video On Demand is a foreseeable consequence of the $44 billion merger between HBO Max and Discovery Plus, as Warner Bros. attempts to fold the two platforms into one compact service in 2023, and achieve profitability in their direct-to-consumer segment by 2024. As Variety reported back in August when HBO Max removed 36 of their titles (including original films and 200 episodes of Sesame Street) from the platform, banishing these shows allowed Warner Bros. Discovery to circumvent contracts that require the company to pay residuals and licensing fees to the cast, writers, and crew who created them.

There is some irony in the fact that this new industry trend towards ducking residual payments — compensation creatives receive even after their work on a film or TV show is complete, in exchange for the reuse of their materials — coincides with scheduled contractual negotiations across three of Hollywood’s chief agencies designed to protect creatives. The Writers Guild of America, the Directors Guild of America, and the Screen Actors Guild all have contracts set to expire by June 30, and all three guilds have said they’re looking for increases in streaming residuals and minimum pay rates. The WGA is particularly eager to start negotiations, given that any leverage they might have had during the guild’s last negotiations in 2020 was undercut by COVID-19’s arrival, which limited the possibility of a worker’s strike.

Industry eyes will be especially fixed on negotiations this spring because this is the longest the guild has ever gone without a strike. Almost fifteen years have passed since the 2007/2008 Writers Strike incited a 100-day walkout — which coincided with the beginning of the Great Recession — that lasted until February of 2008. Before that, the longest period between strikes was 12 years, eight months, and 15 days. And as Deadline points out, every writers strike in history has revolved around residuals — including the strike from 2007/2008, when tensions about how writers would be compensated in matters regarding digital media boiled over.

FORGET CONTENT: CASH IS NOW KING

This February marks the 10th anniversary of the release of Netflix’s House of Cards, the streamer’s first commissioned original series, which ushered in an era of platform growth and new possibilities as both viewer and industry perceptions of how people watch content were upended.

Money was of no consequence during the first five years of the streamers’ race to acquire and produce content, and in 2017 the TV show budget hit an all-time high. Now, five years later, these same platforms are dealing with cash flow concerns. 2022 was the first year that Netflix didn’t operate at a loss, but after launching their ad-supported subscription tier, stock prices dropped 9%. Also this fall, Paramount Global’s stock value depreciated by 7%, Roku’s price went down 6.5%, and shares of Disney dropped to their lowest level in almost two years, ahead of the launch of their ad-supported tier, which debuted earlier this month.

It used to be that content was king. Now it would appear that cash has retaken the throne. Streamers are looking for opportunities to save or make money, and they’re prepared to suffer the ire of the people who watch and create their content in pursuit of this goal.

REINVENTING THE STREAMING MARKET

Removing titles from their catalogs is only one prong in streamers’ strategy to reign in corporate spending. In October, Netflix started preparing to crack down on password sharing. A month later, the company launched their ad-supported tier, which restricts some of the site’s key show titles for licensing reasons; the launch also incited a brushup with Japan’s NHK broadcaster during which NHK asked Netflix to remove 22 of their anime titles because the platform’s ad service was incompatible with the broadcaster’s distribution policy. (In a statement provided to The Japan Times, Netflix stated that they removed the ads from the 22 NHK programs.)

In July, Amazon began rolling out improvements to their user interface intended to amplify Prime Video programming. The changes make it easier for viewers to discover content and determine if that content is included in their Prime Video subscription service, and incorporate a new Live TV page that will cover sports and live events (including the NFL’s Thursday Night Football, which Prime Video now streams exclusively).

In the most striking example so far, Warner Bros. Discovery canceled HBO Max’s Batgirl film in August – a movie whose production cost $90 million and had already completed shooting – in exchange for some tax benefits.

A WINTER OF DISCONTENT IS NIGH

“It’s not about how much, it’s about how good,” said David Zaslav, President and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery during an earnings call last August. “Owning the content that really resonates with people is much more important than just having lots of content.”

Whereas the 2010s marked a time of excessive consumption (see: binge watching, shopping hauls, and social media addiction) the 2020s appear to be taking a more minimalistic approach. Premium TV spending isn’t likely to disappear — Amazon did just spend 1 billion dollars on the first season of The Rings of Power, after all — but the emphasis now will be on curation. The more streamers start limiting what content is available to consumers, the more likely it is that consumers will start to question why they’re subscribing to these services at all. And the more likely these companies are to piss off creatives.

From an industry perspective, targeting residual payments is, as someone described it on Twitter, “pure evil.” Residuals are passive income that has been known to help prop up industry folk during times of financial instability, and title pruning can have serious impacts on the salaries of working creatives. One actor, Lucia Fasano, Tweeted that she received around $1,000 for her work in one episode of HBO Max’s The Deuce. “My SAG-aftra (SIC) contract means I get paid small residuals by mail when people watch it/buy it on HBO. The residuals also contribute to my union dues. That’s why they can pay you so little when you do the job.”

This kind of industry-baiting behavior by streamers seems poised to foment discontent amongst creatives, who are, frankly, already unhappy. Faced with a lugubrious job market, high inflation rates, and dwindling opportunities, a strike like the one undertaken in 2007 isn’t inevitable, but it is in the cards. As 2022 winds down, with concerns about a recession likely to carry over into the New Year, it appears the climate is ripe for yet another evaluation of how streaming services factor into Hollywood’s evolving business model.

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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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