Hollywood studios push back against striking writers' claim of 'gig' workforce

By Lisa Richwine and Danielle Broadway

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) -The group representing Hollywood studios fired back on Thursday at claims from striking film and television workers that they have been forced into the "gig economy" because of changes brought by the streaming TV era.

Roughly 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) went on strike on Tuesday, saying that studios had "created a gig economy inside a union workforce."

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents major studios such as Walt Disney Co and Netflix Inc, said writing movies or TV shows in Hollywood "has almost nothing in common with standard 'gig' jobs."

Most TV writers, the group said, are employed on a weekly or

episodic basis, with a guarantee of a specified number of weeks or episodes.

In addition, writing comes with "substantial" benefits "that are far superior to what many full-time employees receive for working an entire year," such as healthcare, pension plan contributions and paid parental leave.

Writers say they are working more and making less as studios have shifted their focus to streaming over traditional TV and cable.

The AMPTP said Guild data showed the median number of weeks of employment for a writer on a streaming series is between 20 and 24, which pays a minimum of $91,000, plus future residuals of more than $28,000 for a half-hour script and more than $41,000 for a one-hour script.

Writers note that they have to pay their agents and lawyers from their salaries, and that they may not find a writing gig for rest of the year after their 24 weeks of pay.

The strike comes at a challenging time for media companies.

Conglomerates are under pressure from Wall Street to make their streaming services profitable after pumping billions of dollars into programming to attract subscribers.

The rise of streaming also has eroded television ad revenue as traditional TV audiences shrink.

On Thursday, Paramount Global, the studio that released hit TV show "Yellowstone" and the "Mission: Impossible" movies, reported weak earnings from investments in streaming and softness in the ad market. The company's shares plummeted 28%.

The strike has shut down production of late-night talk shows such as "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and could disrupt the fall TV season. Drew Barrymore dropped out of hosting this Sunday's MTV Movie & TV Awards in sympathy with the strike.

"I have listened to the writers, and in order to truly respect them, I will pivot from hosting the MTV Movie & TV Awards live in solidarity with the strike," Barrymore said in a statement.

Segments that Barrymore already aired are expected to be shown during the awards ceremony, and she has agreed to host the event next year.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Sandra Maler)