What striking film and television writers are up against: Who controls the major film and television studios and streamers?


Writers on the picket line outside of Fox Studios in Los Angeles [Photo: WSWS]

The ongoing strike of 11,000 film and television writers in the United States, now in its second week, is a significant part of the general upsurge of the class struggle internationally. In the battle they are currently waging, writers confront much more than a handful of studios run by multi-millionaire executives. They are up against enormous transnational conglomerates at the beck and call of Wall Street.

For American capitalism, the film and television industries have central cultural and economic significance. Film and television production is the primary mechanism through which American imperialism constructs its image domestically and internationally. Warmongering propaganda films are viewed as essential to drumming up support for the US and NATO war against Russia in Ukraine and the drive to war with China.

These industries also generate tens of billions of dollars in profits every year. Film and television production is increasingly dominated by a handful of monopolies that are closely integrated with Wall Street, which is presently demanding draconian actions be taken to ensure greater profitability.

An examination of some of the major film and television studios and streamers demonstrates the immense social, economic and political forces that writers are taking on in their strike.

Walt Disney Company

The “kingdom” of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck has grown substantially over the past several decades, becoming one of the major entertainment and media conglomerates in the world. The Disney empire includes theme parks and resorts, music production, theatrical production, retail, consumer products, video games, and much more.

In film production, Walt Disney Studios includes Walt Disney Pictures, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Studios (previously known as 20th Century Fox), Regency Enterprises, and Searchlight Pictures.

In television, Disney controls the Disney Television Studios, Disney Television Group, FX Networks, National Geographic, Onyx Collective, ABC News and all the television stations owned by ABC. Disney has a 50 percent equity holding in A&E Networks, an American multinational broadcasting company that owns numerous non-fiction and entertainment-based television brands. The company is also the majority-owner of ESPN Inc., the major sports media conglomerate. A large collection of international television networks also sits under Disney’s thumb.

Additionally, Disney controls a number of large video streaming platforms, including Disney+ and Hulu, which it currently co-owns with Comcast. It is expected to take full ownership of Hulu by 2024.

In 2022, this empire generated a revenue of almost $85 billion and a gross profit of over $28 billion. Disney reported $23.5 billion in revenue for its first quarter earnings for fiscal 2023, an 8 percent increase over last year’s first quarter.

Disney is run by a collection of multi-millionaire corporate executives, bankers, private wealth managers, and Democratic Party operatives. This includes:

Mark G. Parker, current Chairman of the Board of Directors of Disney, served as president and CEO of Nike from 2006 to 2020 and currently serves as the sportswear company’s executive chairman. In 2011, the horrendous working conditions, rampant exploitation and abuse faced by workers at Nike’s outsourced sweatshops in Asia were widely exposed. While workers were physically assaulted, verbally berated and worked for 13 hours a day for a measly salary of $59 a month, Parker took home tens of millions of dollars in salary and stock options. To this day, the $192 billion company has done nothing to improve the conditions of these workers.

In this July 16, 2019, photo General Motors CEO Mary Barra speaks during the opening of their contract talks with the United Auto Workers in Detroit. [AP Photo/Paul Sancya]

Mary T. Barra has been the chair and CEO of General Motors (GM) since 2014. In the capitalist media, she is celebrated as the first female CEO of a “Big Three” automaker. However, the fact that Barra is a woman has not made her any less ruthless to ensure the continued profitability of GM. During her tenure, Barra has overseen the closure of auto plants, mass layoffs of workers, pay cuts and freezes, and other attacks on autoworkers that have devastated working class communities across the US. Meanwhile, Barra has raked in over $200 million since 2014, making $28.9 million in 2022, over 630 times the average annual salary of an autoworker.

Michael Froman worked in the US Department of Treasury during the 1990s as deputy assistant secretary for Eurasia and the Middle East and later as Chief of Staff under Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin. After his time in the Clinton administration, Froman worked for investment bank Citigroup as president and CEO of CitiInsurance and head of Emerging Markets Strategy. Froman entered the Obama administration in 2009 as deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs, a critical member of Obama’s “Wall Street cabinet.”

In 2016, it was revealed that Froman authored an email from Citigroup to the incoming Obama administration in 2009, submitting its preferred candidates for cabinet positions. The eventual composition of Obama’s cabinet almost exactly corresponded with Citigroup’s list. Under Obama, Citigroup was bailed out to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, and bank executives were shielded in a mortgage fraud settlement in 2014. Froman served as US Trade Representative from 2013 to 2017.

These directors carry out the demands of the Wall Street investors and banks who own the vast majority of Disney market shares. The Vanguard Group, Inc. and BlackRock hold the largest stakes in Disney. Vanguard, with around $8.1 trillion in global assets under management, controls over 138 million Disney shares, worth almost $14 billion, a 7.6 percent stake. BlackRock, with $8.6 trillion in global assets under management, controls close to 77 million shares, worth close to $8 billion, a 4.2 percent stake.

Warner Brothers Discovery

Warner Brothers Discovery was founded in April of 2022 after the spin-off of media and entertainment conglomerate WarnerMedia by telecommunications giant AT&T, and its merger with media conglomerate Discovery, Inc. The conglomerate’s film division, Warner Brothers Pictures Group, includes Warner Bros. Pictures, New Line Cinema, Warner Animation Group and Castle Rock Entertainment. In television, Warner controls Warner Bros. Television, Telepictures, Alloy Entertainment, Warner Bros. Animation, Cartoon Network Studios, The CW and British-based All3Media.

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