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Paul Epstein calls for return to ad-supported TV to solve writers’ pay dispute

A return to ad-supported television away from subscription VoD could be the answer to the pay dispute at the heart of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strikes, according to writer, director and producer Paul Epstein.

Paul Epstein

New York City-based Epstein has said the rapid growth – and now slow decline – of major SVoD platforms is causing systemic issues in the TV industry, including the current US writers’ strike.

The Who Killed Robert Wone? executive producer has called on free, ad-supported streaming TV (FAST) to solve the pay dispute at the heart of the strikes as it is a TV model that pays writers fairly.

Streaming services have been accused of reducing pay for writers by normalising a structure that cuts financial rewards through royalties and residuals – an important source of writers’ income.

Commenting on the strike, Epstein said: “Ultimately, these strikes are a labour dispute brought on by the culture of the major studios and streamers. The TV industry has been over-stretched throughout the streaming boom. Consequently, streamers and studios have tried to shift writers into gig work with shorter commitments, such as shows with fewer episodes per season, and even day work.

“Now that ‘peak TV’ is in decline and demand for shows has decreased, streamers and studios are cutting costs wherever possible. The industry needs to solve this problem with a competitive alternative to subscription-based streaming platforms.”

“The income structure of FAST channels gives platforms a steady stream of funding that is better for the platform, the writers and the viewer. In this time of economic uncertainty, viewers are reconsidering how many subscriptions they want or need. But premium SVoDs have long needed constant attention-grabbing blockbusters to bring new viewers. FAST commissioners don’t need to play into this binge-watching and binge-producing cycle. Instead, they can focus on accessible, casual-viewing TV.”

Epstein has argued that ending over-reliance on subscription revenue could allow more affordable productions to be produced in greater quantities, re-introducing the middle ground of TV production, which has largely been lost in an era of Netflix and Amazon mega-budget projects.

Epstein said: “This ‘middle class’ of TV production has been squeezed out by major streamers and their reintroduction could be an important positive change for the industry. Not only could it provide better-paying, more consistent jobs and opportunities for writers, it would bring a much-needed group of affordable but high-quality shows to our screens.”

Epstein is an Emmy-nominated director and producer with over two decades of experience in the film and TV industry. He has produced scripted, factual and news TV for networks and streamers including Peacock, MSNBC, History, NatGeo, Discovery and other major networks.

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