Is the WGA Winning the PR Battle?

Perhaps the studios should have shown a little more caution before engaging in a war of words with a bunch of writers.

Two new polls indicate that public sympathy currently lies overwhelmingly with the WGA. A SurveyUSA poll in Los Angeles reported that 69% of adults familiar with the strike supported the writers. Meanwhile, according to a survey by Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business Management, a mere 4% of 1,000 American adults polled favor the studios in the dispute, while 63% side with striking writers. Additionally, 47% thought writers deserved the largest share of residual payments, compared with 26% for actors, 25% for producers and 2% for directors.

Don’t count the studios out completely, though–33% of respondents in the Pepperdine poll say they’re unsure of who they support, meaning there’s still plenty of opportunity for them to jockey for position in the court of public opinion.

One reason for the overwhelming public support the writers are enjoying may be the very medium that’s in contention. The WGA and its members are making strategic use of internet blogs and YouTube videos to state their case, creating the kind of viral whirlwind the studios can only dream of. Many writers are speaking out directly to their fans, encouraging their mobilization efforts, and the fans are answering with exactly the kind of enthusiasm you’d expect from, well, fans.

And then, of course, there is the WGA’s canny use of themed rallies to generate extra media attention. And all those celebrities walking the picket lines beside them certainly doesn’t hurt, either.

Another indication of the AMPTP’s untenable position is a recent letter to the L.A. Times, signed by over 80 independent producers, asking the press to correct and clarify their use of the term “producer” when referring to the AMPTP. The letter appeared the same day Producer’s Guild of America executive director Vance Van Petten sent an email to website Deadline Hollywood Daily, definitively disassociating the organization from the AMPTP.

The writers are neither negotiating with nor striking the producers. The WGA’s battle is with the studios and networks—the Alliance—not with producers. It’s true, the last ‘P’ in AMPTP stands for ‘producers’. But that designation is a vestige of a time long past, when producers and studios were effectively synonymous.

All of this could mean trouble ahead for the networks, who have been hemorrhaging viewers all season (and for many seasons before this). If the strike is allowed to drag on for months, seriously disrupting audience viewing habits, it remains to be seen how many of their viewers they’ll be able to convince to put down their Wii remotes and come back to traditional network television programming.

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