A writers’ strike in Hollywood could delay or discontinue popular films and TV shows if a settlement isn’t reached. The writers in question are members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA), and their contention is with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Though the WGA has every right to withhold their labor until their demands are met, they are ultimately fighting a losing battle against a rapidly evolving industry. If accepted, the new rules will result in needless inefficiency, while hurting consumers and small production projects.
The AMPTP has taken concern with two demands in particular; one requiring minimum writing staff requirements on projects and one requiring minimum employment time. Both rules would increase the minimum production costs for any given project. Smaller projects needing only a few writers for a short period may not be tenable. Some may choose to hire excess staff and bite the extra production costs, but many will simply abandon the project altogether, ironically costing writers job opportunities. For consumers, this could mean less independent content.
Even the demands that the AMPTP finds less egregious are nonetheless counter-productive and ignore technological change. [BD1] Writers are worried that language AI tools like ChatGPT could replace or minimize some of their roles. If there is truth to this claim, then mandating rules against its adoption will hold back efficiency to protect legacy jobs.
Producers will adopt methods that best lower costs while maintaining or increasing quality. Labor has often taken issue with these changes, not because it results in fewer jobs in the economy (it doesn’t) but because it might disrupt their jobs. That position is inherently self-interested at the expense of the wider economy, which benefits from efficiency gains. In this case, increasing barriers to new projects could see fewer independent productions and less consumer content.
Attacks on AI have led to multiple strikers adopting signs that poke fun at AI’s supposedly poor writing skills and lack of “childhood trauma” fueling its work. The former claim completely ignores that studios will either not use AI or limit its use on their own if it is unreliable. The studio works on a profit-seeking model that adapts and regulates new technology based on costs and benefits, so if AI is bad for business, there is no need to strike over it. Just talk to shareholders.
Some criticism of AI holds legitimate concerns, [TD2] such as the issue of copyrighting content AI produces. In an industry based on intellectual ownership, this problem could present legal challenges if tools like ChatGPT were widely adopted. However, this is yet another problem that will need to be sorted out by studios regardless of the effects on writers, since copyright issues impact company returns.
As stated in the beginning, writers have the right to withhold their labor for any reason, but that does not mean their goals would benefit consumers and small production companies. In this case, many of the WGA’s demands would create needless inefficiency, ostensibly to protect their members. Inefficiency in business means the entire value output diminishes, resulting in less content for the consumer, higher prices, and more barriers for smaller firms.
Isaac Schick is a policy analyst at the American Consumer Institute, a nonprofit education and research organization. For more information about the Institute, visit www.TheAmericanConsumer.Org or follow us on Twitter @ConsumerPal.