Lights, Camera, Reactions

A social listening journey through the 2007 and 2023 Writers' Strikes

Henry Chapman, Research and Insights Analyst


Strikes around streaming

On May 2, 2023, Hollywood's Writers Guild of America (WGA) launched their first strike since 2007. Screen Actors Guild (SGA) members followed them on July 14, 2023. These strikes have effectively shut down all Hollywood productions, and the industry is at a standstill. Using Infegy's more than 16 years of historical social listening data, we'll look back at the 2007 Hollywood Writers Strike for the clues that pointed to the rise of streaming and reality shows that didn't require writers. After our look back, we'll examine the 2023 strike to identify clues within rising topics and hashtags that point to future concerns about the industry's future, particularly with the emergence of artificial intelligence and its potential to disrupt the entertainment landscape.

A look back at 2007

Let's dive into the 2007 WGA Strike by analyzing post volume, Topics, and Narratives using data from 2007 and 2008. We will discuss how social media users discussed issues like streaming and the surge of reality shows.

2007 Post Volume points to critical events

Let's begin by examining the post volume, a crucial trend for researching new topics. When studying the 2007 WGA strike, we see a typical crisis pattern. There was a significant spike on November 7, 2007, marking the start of the strike due to failed negotiations between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Similarly, when the strike ended on February 12, 2008, there was another notable spike in post volume. It's important to note that we are analyzing actual posts from 2007. Unlike current crisis post volume, which usually shows massive spikes at crucial events, we observe a consistently elevated post volume between the start and end of the 2007 strike.

2007 post universe chart
Figure 1: Post volume attributed to the 2007 Hollywood Writers' Strike (September 2007 through September 2008); Infegy Atlas data.
Strike topics point to future streaming concerns

Back in 2007, DVDs were significant, and a central disagreement between the WGA and AMPTP was the number of DVD residuals for writers. In Hollywood, a residual refers to payments made to actors, writers, or creative professionals for their work's reuse in films, TV shows, or other media. Traditionally, writers received compensation upon delivery and relied on residuals as recurring income, significantly as they advanced in their careers.

Prophetically, the 2007 word cloud shows topics like "streaming," "digital," and "downloads," indicating writers' awareness of the issues related to streaming and downloads. If you recall, Netflix first launched its streaming service in 2007, the same year as the WGA strike. If you had looked closely, social intelligence would have clued you into the future WGA concerns.

Writers strike word cloud
Figure 2: Topics attributed to the 2007 Writers' Strike (September 2007 through September 2008); Infegy Atlas data.
Narratives from 2007 point to the rise of reality shows

Next, we'll examine Infegy's Narratives to understand the industry's response. Narratives compare and link common topics in millions of related documents.

Without writers during the WGA strike, Hollywood producers had to adapt to unscripted television, such as reality shows and reruns. Infegy Atlas' Narratives highlight this in cluster #3, mentioning reality shows and reruns.

This shift had significant and long-lasting impacts on Hollywood programming for the next decade. Producers realized that reality TV was cost-effective and captivating for American viewers, leading to the creation of shows like Jersey Shore (2009), Shark Tank (2009), and Celebrity Apprentice (2009), which played a role in Donald Trump's resurgence.

2007 narratives cloud
Figure 3: Narratives attributed to the 2007 Writers' Strike (September 2007 through September 2008); Infegy Atlas data.

Jumping forward to 2023

Now that we've gotten a better indication of what happened in 2007 let's jump forward 16 years to examine the current WGA and SAG strike. By analyzing post volume, Topics, and Narratives, we can observe how streaming residuals have transformed from minor concerns to major crises. Additionally, we'll explore how artificial intelligence-related technology now presents indications of potentially disrupting the entertainment industry, much like streaming did before.

2023 Post Volume points to developing events

Let's begin by analyzing the post volume during the 2023 WGA and SAG strike, which is still ongoing. Similar to 2007, we notice significant spikes in post volume linked to different key events in the crisis. The strike commenced on May 2 with the WGA, and the next important event was on July 14 when the SAG joined them. However, unlike in 2007, the post volume between these critical events is relatively lower. This different pattern indicates that while social media is reactive during critical events, there is a less widespread and pronounced conversation between these events. This lack of volume suggests that the current strike may receive different comparative attention than the 2007 Writers strike.

2023 post universe chart
Figure 4: Post volume attributed to the 2023 Hollywood Writers' and Actors' Strikes (March 2023 through July 31, 2023); Infegy Atlas data.
Strike Topics point to future artificial intelligence concerns

Now, let's examine the 2023 Topics. Unsurprisingly, DVDs and downloads are nowhere to be seen, and streaming-related keywords like "streaming," "Netflix," and "Disney" (referring to Disney+) dominate the world cloud. Streaming, once a minor consideration in 2007, has now upended writers' and actors' traditional compensation structure, significantly reducing their residuals and affecting their income.

What's even more intriguing and forward-thinking is the emergence of "artificial intelligence." Writers and actors express profound concerns about studios employing generative AI systems to automate creative professionals' roles. We'll briefly touch on those concerns in our final piece of analysis.

2023 word cloud
Figure 5: Topics attributed to the 2023 Hollywood Writers' and Actors' Strikes (March 2023 through July 31, 2023); Infegy Atlas data.
2023 Hashtags allude to Oppenheimer's development of dangerous technology

To better understand the writers' concerns about AI, we conducted a query on AI topics and the strike. The expected pro-labor hashtags like #sagaftrastrike or #sagaftrastrong were present, but we also noticed #Oppenheimer, referencing Christopher Nolan's 2023 film about scientist Robert Oppenheimer's struggles with world-ending technology. Writers and actors view generative AI with similar worry, fearing its potential to disrupt their careers and way of life. These allusions and warnings about AI might be as prophetic as the 2007 warnings about streaming.

Oppenheimer word cloud
Figure 6: Post volume attributed to the 2023 Hollywood Writers' and Actors' Strikes (March 2023 through July 31, 2023); Infegy Atlas data.

Using social listening data to inform future decisions

The comparison between the 2007 and 2023 WGA and SAG strikes reveals the power of using historical social listening data to predict future trends in the entertainment industry. While the 2007 strike pointed to the rise of streaming and reality shows, the current strike highlights the dominance of streaming-related topics and the emerging concerns about artificial intelligence. As generative AI advances, it becomes even more clear that AI has the potential to disrupt the traditional roles of writers and actors, just as streaming transformed the industry over a decade ago. The key takeaway from this brief, is that for those considering social listening software, analyzing historical data can be invaluable in anticipating industry movements and preparing for future challenges.

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