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Streaming TV is benefiting—and struggling—from Great Resignation pressures

WFH has created a second primetime, but competition is increasing.
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Francis Scialabba

· 5 min read

A friend has picked up a new habit since he started working from home at the beginning of the pandemic. He calls it “the work show,” and the idea is simple: pick a television program, and only watch that show during work hours. His work show? The FX spy drama The Americans.

He’s not the only one. By the end of 2020, Nielsen found that about half of remote professionals were watching TV or streaming content while they worked, and that daytime television viewing was becoming something of a second primetime.

That sounds like excellent news for the entertainment business, especially streaming, which has benefited tremendously from the growth of people watching shows at all hours of the day. Americans streamed the equivalent of almost 15 million years of content in 2021, according to Nielsen.

At the same time, workers in the entertainment industry aren’t immune from the broader changes in the workforce, whether that’s remote work or the well-documented Great Resignation. That means media giants, already grappling with fierce competition, are now grappling with how to retain their workforces.

“The Great Resignation is real—very real,” WarnerMedia’s chief human resources officer  Jim Cummings recently told Business Insider. “And it’s hard to blame anyone, or feel sorry for ourselves, when many people have had a bona fide awakening around what they can and should be doing, where they should be doing it, and how they want to balance all the various dimensions of their lives.”

Jumping ship

For one, staffers are finding that the skills they were hired for can translate pretty well across other sectors and industries.

“In the past, to get really good at your industry, you stayed in your industry,” James McQuivey, VP, principal analyst at Forrester, told Marketing Brew. “Maybe you moved from one TV network to another, and that obviously happened a lot.” Now, whether staffers are tasked with social media strategizing or software development, they may realize they “can use those tools at a self-driving car company.”

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That’s not hyperbole: McQuivey said he knows someone who left the media and entertainment business for the self-driving car business, he said with a laugh.

But even those who want to stay in the industry are seeing what else it has to offer. “We believe you’re going to start hearing more of the term ‘the Great Reshuffle,’ if you haven’t already,” Roku’s VP of product management, advertising, Louqman Parampath, told Marketing Brew in December.

“The past two years have been so challenging that many workers who are looking to make a change to their current situation are taking advantage of the candidate-driven market and ‘shuffling’ into a similar type of company but into a role that will satisfy more of their needs.”

Trial by fire

Entertainment giants, like so many other businesses, were forced to go remote in the earliest days of the pandemic, and new streaming services like Peacock and HBO Max, in a seemingly miraculous feat, debuted in 2020 with an almost entirely remote workforce.

Those undertakings highlighted which tasks could be performed remotely and which tasks were better suited for in-person work, McQuivey said. A portion of the workforce—primarily white-collar workers—has now gotten a taste of long-term work-from-home life. In September, 45% of full-time employees across industries worked either partly or fully remote, according to Gallup.

“Content creation is essentially an old-school craft where specialists do their thing in the quiet of their room,” McQuivey said. “Even in those few areas in entertainment media where you have to have people physically present, they don’t always have to be as physically present as you assume.”

But not being physically present can present its own challenges, especially around hiring. Parampath says it’s “hard work and a different process to attract, interview, and hire talent remotely,” noting that Roku has updated “not just our hiring, but also our onboarding process” since the pandemic began to make the experience better for new hires.

High stakes and high stress

Combine those forces with the intense competition in the industry, and you can begin to see the pressure-cooker effect. Even Netflix, which has previously brushed off questions about the growing line-up of rival streaming services, acknowledged to investors that competition “has only intensified over the last 24 months as entertainment companies all around the world develop their own streaming offerings.”

That competition is felt behind-the-scenes, as a backlog of projects that were delayed by the pandemic and the pressure to release buzzy new titles applies even more stress to staffers who must still show up to work.

“People are playing catch up because they have a lot of shows that people have been waiting for,” said John Mass, president of media investment firm Content Partners.

That pressure boiled over last fall when the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees—which represents 60,000 TV and film production workers like cinematographers, editors, hair stylists, prop makers, and grips—voted to authorize a strike in the midst of contract negotiations as the union asked for better pay, improved working conditions, higher contributions to health and pension plans, and a larger share of profits from streaming productions.

That proposed strike, which was narrowly avoided in an eleventh-hour agreement, would have brought most TV and film production to a standstill.

Mass said that appetite for change could mean more disruption. If workers “find a part of the industry that is not benefiting from the fact that we have increased consumption, increased demand, and increased production, then they should do something about it,” he said, adding that he’s “hopeful that they’ll be able to work out [grievances], and that [workers] realize they’re an important part of getting content made.”

Ryan Barwick contributed to this article.

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