The Big Picture
- Labor unrest in Hollywood continues as writers and actors demand better pay and workplace protections amid ongoing strikes.
- Steven Soderbergh expresses concerns about lack of data transparency from streamers, highlighting the need for better information on how shows are performing.
- Soderbergh believes that transparency is crucial for the industry’s future, advocating for sweeping changes in the streaming business to benefit creatives and the public.
Labor unrest has fully taken hold in Hollywood amid the ongoing dual WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Although the AMPTP and WGA agreed to resume talks, a gulf between the two sides remains as writers and actors fight for better pay and better protections within the workplace. A number of issues beyond compensation need to be addressed too, including fears of generative AI taking over human jobs – a fear that studios have done nothing to assuage. Academy Award winner Steven Soderbergh has never been quite as concerned by AI’s ability to replace workers. Rather, in an interview with Defector for his new web show Command Z, he explained why he’s more concerned about the lack of data transparency from streamers and how it affects creatives.
“Data transparency is the one that keeps me up at night,” Soderbergh said when discussing where he stands on AI. Since working with Max on projects like Let Them All Talk and Full Circle, he revealed that the streamer gave him next to no information on how his work was actually performing on the platform, opting instead to use vague statements like “We feel good about these numbers,” and “The comps are right in line with what we were hoping for.” If a show is successful, the public, too, is usually given only a confusing metric to go by to define that success. To Soderbergh, AI is a tool that can be dangerously misused, but this adherence to keeping numbers hidden indicates a deeper rot in the industry.
“Well, it’s just, there are two potential reasons that we’re not getting all of the information,” he continued. “One is that they’re all making a lot more money than anybody knows and that they’re willing to tell us. The other is they’re making a lot less money than anybody knows. And they don’t want Wall Street to look under the hood of this thing in any significant way because there’ll be a reckoning that will be quite unpleasant.” While all signs point to the former, he thinks either result is bad news for the industry as a whole. He believes there need to be sweeping changes to how streaming as a whole works, starting with getting information into the hands of the public and, especially, the creatives.
“It’s one of those two. My attitude is, I’d rather work in a version of the business where I know what’s going on. And if I have to take a haircut, to work in that business, and bet on myself more and take less upfront, which I’ve done a lot, then I’ll do that. That could, though, mean, potentially, a drastic reduction in the amount of things that get made. If we tear this thing down to the studs, and find out that the math is funky, it’s going to be quite a transformation. And so my feeling—and I’m operating from a place of real privilege—is the sooner we find out the better, because one way or another, it’s gotta get rebuilt, you might as well start now.”
Creatives Only Suffer Without Data Transparency
Soderbergh’s thoughts ring very true in the context of a few streaming horror stories, namely that of Orange Is the New Black. Last month, it came out that the cast of the hit series that put Netflix on the map was exploited with unfathomably low pay and residuals relative to the success of the show to the point that several members were earning more from their day jobs. This was all despite CEO Ted Sarandos bragging about the universal acclaim and attention the series was receiving. Despite becoming overnight superstars, the cast and even the series creator Jenji Kohan weren’t shown data on just how strong the performance was until after the final season was done.
A better deal as a result of the dual strikes could ultimately remedy many of these issues by making streamers send more residuals and revenue to the pockets of the smaller actors and writers who need it to get by. Transparency, however, helps keep these streaming services and studios accountable. With better data available, it would mean a better understanding of the success of a show or film and fewer opportunities for companies to mislead those working on the project about how much their work is pulling in.
Stay tuned here at Collider for more coverage of the dual Hollywood strikes. We also have full write-ups on both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes for more information on what both sides are fighting for.