Writers Strike Threatens Los Angeles Economy


If the current strike by the Writers Guild of America lasts 153 days, as did the strike of 1988, Los Angeles County stands to lose an estimated $380 million in revenue, according to a UCLA economist.

Dr. Jerry Nickelsburg told members of the Los Angeles City Council the strike hasn’t deeply impacted the L.A. economy as yet, since most studios accelerated production, actually creating a spike in revenues from the industry in the second quarter.

But the strike will eventually cause losses in sales taxes through lowered spending rates by laid off worker, and from long-term losses as consumers flee to other media and don’t return to TV after the strike. The professor said 10% of viewers never came back to television after the 1988 strike and he expected at least that percentage to permanently disappear from the TV audience this time.

Steve McDonald, president of Film LA, which handles production permitting for the county, put production spending in the county into perspective. Before the strike, 52 one-hour dramas and about 30 1/2-hour sitcoms were produced in the county. Now, all but two are shuttered. He estimated that each one-hour show employs about 200 employees, who are now out of work. The sitcoms staff 80 to 100 employees each, also out of work.

Another loss estimate was provided by the county’s chief economist at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. Jack Kyser said the entertainment industry is the third largest employer in the county. The direct loss and indirect loss (including fewer restaurant transactions, hotel room rentals, loss of car sales) so far from the strike is estimated at $220 million, he said, which is higher than the tally the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers notes on its Web site.

He added the annual Oscar telecast generates $130 million for the county, revenues that could be decreased if the strike continues and actors honor the picket line and don’t participate in the ceremony.

WGA representative John Bowman said his union “never wanted this strike,” but started its job action because, without residuals, writers would have to give up their careers.

The losses in the first quarter of 2008 will be even greater than experienced already, he added. Bowman said current series have not filmed their complete show orders. According to a survey of WGA writer/show runners, half-hour sitcoms have an average of six episodes to be filmed to complete their seasons. One-hour dramas average seven episodes yet to be filmed.

Betsy Thomas, show runner for TBS’s My Boys, said she is from a two-strike household -- her spouse is also a writer. One hundred people normally work for her, she told the council members.

“They drive Hondas and Toyotas. We’re middle class,” she said, adding that she hopes negotiations could resume.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers was asked to appear before the council’s Housing, Community and Economic Development committee, but the producers union sent a statement.

Council members vowed to pass a resolution supporting a rapid end to the strike.