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Differences within members of striking groups are complicating the Hollywood strikes


Follow the coverage of the strikes in Hollywood, and you're sure to come across the acronym AMPTP - the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, meaning the group representing the studios and businesses that are across the aisle, so to speak, from the striking writers and actors. To learn more about the alliance, we've reached out again to Matt Belloni, host of "The Town" podcast. Hi, Matt. Welcome to the program.

MATT BELLONI: Thanks for having me.

RASCOE: So to begin, can you give us, like, just a little thumbnail of some of the big businesses that make up the AMPTP?

BELLONI: Well, the key members are what are called the AMPTP Eight. And those are the companies that are the lead negotiators for the producer side of the entertainment industry. There are actually hundreds of members or signatories to the agreements, but only the eight major companies are the ones that negotiate them. And those are traditional Hollywood studios like Warner Bros., Disney, Universal Pictures, Sony Pictures, Paramount Pictures.

And then there are three that I call the sort of interlopers or the tech companies that now have studio arms - Netflix, Amazon Studios and Apple. And together - they come together. They're not allowed to collude in the business of entertainment. That would violate antitrust laws. But they are allowed to come together for the purposes of labor negotiations, and that is what the AMPTP is.

RASCOE: And so how is this alliance different now than, say, when it was first established?

BELLONI: The AMPTP of today is very different than it was even 10, 15 years ago. I mean, these five traditional studios are in the business of making film and television shows primarily. But if you look at a company like Amazon, Amazon's primary business is selling stuff to people. It is a retailer that also happens to have a studio arm. I mean, look at Apple, the world - one of the world's largest companies. That is primarily a phone company or a device company, but they also have this content initiative. So that impacts the dynamic of the studio side of the conversations because they're not always aligned on all the issues.

RASCOE: Well, that's my question. How do these differences complicate the strikes? Because Amazon's business model and Netflix's business model, I would imagine, would be very different than, say, Warner Bros. Discovery or Disney.

BELLONI: It's a big complication. And, you know, they put on a good face. Oh, we're all aligned. We are all on the same page. But the reality of the matter is that they do have competing interests. And, you know, if the streaming-first companies care very much about the transparency issue - that is one of the biggest issues in the strike - is that the writers and actors want to see how many people are watching their shows and movies, and the actors actually want a percentage of the revenue that is generated from their shows and movies. But the streamers don't like to reveal information, and they are put in a place now where these guilds - in order to work with them, they may have to.

RASCOE: The strikes, you know, are really, in so many ways, about the future of this industry that's really in transition. You know, you got consumers. They're cutting cords. They're picky about when they go to the movie theater. And then they're dropping streaming subscriptions as soon as they've binged a show. I mean, is there a win-win for the studios and the actors and the writers? Or is it just going to be pain all around?

BELLONI: Well, the business overall is extremely challenged right now for the reason you mentioned. There's a transition going on from linear television, which has been extremely profitable for 30, 40 years now because you and I, if we're cable subscribers, are paying for a lot of channels that we don't watch. That is transitioning to a streaming ecosystem where, at least for now, you don't have to pay for things that you don't watch. And that is translating into less money for these companies. Streaming is not profitable for any of these major companies except for Netflix.

So as long as this transition is going, it's going to be a very difficult financial time for these entertainment companies. And then you add this strike on top of it, and it's even more complicating because they have to figure out how to pay the people that actually make the shows and movies that fuel the entire business without further threatening the viability of that business.

RASCOE: So, I mean, do you have any sense of when the strikes might end? I mean, I have to ask, like, do you think it'll be in a week or two or Thanksgiving, you know? What - Halloween? What do you see?

BELLONI: I guess I'm somewhat optimistic that they will have a deal in October because if it goes much further than that, these studios will just write off the rest of the year and say, see you in January. And then we'll really start to get into a world of hurt because there have already been layoffs, furloughs. The economies of Los Angeles and New York are taking massive hits. The hope is that we can get something done before mid-October. If not - disaster.

RASCOE: That's Matt Belloni of the publication Puck. Thank you so much.

BELLONI: Thank you.

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Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.