Measuring A TV Writer's Value: In Drama, Dollars And Sense

Not too sure where the drama goes now in the story arc of the writers' strike against major studios, TV networks, and streamers.

Is there a euphoric victory scene in the works? A dramatic uneven ending? Perhaps a sequel.

One mini-story around this could be major CEO salary trends. Should they follow the trend in writers' pay history -- in terms of percentages, ups and downs? And should CEOs' salaries be less dependent on their company stock prices? 

We tend to look at the tens of millions -- or in rare cases, hundreds of millions -- of dollars that CEOs can make a year in salary/compensation, versus that of writers current compensation. But that's kind of crazy in capitalistic-based media company operations.

One thing is clear: Writers are demanding more money in a streaming world seemingly full of more TV series writing opportunities.

At the same time, they are getting more work for a lot less pay. So they are demanding a residual structure similar to what broadcast TV shows offer.



And then there is this: Seven major media companies' chief executive officers took some steep salary haircuts in 2022, mostly because their compensation -- as is the current CEO financial formula -- comes down to declining stock-market results. 

Much of this declining activity had to do with streaming platforms, many of which have posted yearly losses of anywhere between $1 billion and $2 billion.

And we all know media and entertainment stocks were not immune to weakness in the overall economy and financial markets that began in force in the middle of 2022. 

Chief executive officers at Amazon, NBCUniversal, Walt Disney, Endeavor, Comcast and Warner Bros. Discovery witnessed significant drops in salary/compensation -- anywhere from 6% lower for Brian Roberts at Comcast Corp. ($32.1 million) to 99% lower for Andy Jassy at Amazon. ($1.3 million).

CEOs have a lot of ways to punch in stock prices --- in the short term -- through layoffs, consolidation, reducing debt, and/or sales of business units. But not everything  is cause-and-effect.

Legacy TV-based media companies may add this to their defense of not raising salaries for writers: Only Netflix is profitable when it comes to streaming. (Warner Bros. Discovery just posted a net profit in its streaming work -- but that is just for one quarterly result).

Writers cannot really affect a company's stock price. However, one measure is traditional TV show viewing (with whatever measurement tools one may have for streaming and/or linear). And then there are estimates on how much advertising revenue TV shows bring in. Both can offer up rough value at the show level. 

The bottom line is that media and entertainment companies are under the gun to ramp up fresh, new TV and movie content quickly. All this can spread thin all creative sources they have including writers, producers and talent.

Perhaps the new streaming industry should not be in the conversation. Writers would say go back ten years and look at their pay. Senator Bernie Sanders said in a May 2 tweet that pay for TV writers has fallen 23% over the last 10 years -- and all the while, eight media/entertainment CEOs made nearly $800 million collectively.

While media and entertainment stocks have all fallen recently, that ten-year history would show growth.

In other words,  one would think there should be a way to part with some of the spoils and riches. That's a good ending.

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