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As the Writers Guild of America strike enters its third week, a new survey exclusively shared with TheWrap finds broad concern over one issue writers have raised: the deployment of artificial intelligence in writing movie and TV scripts.
The survey also found a broad lack of understanding among the public around the reasons behind the strike and its short- and long-term ramifications on their viewing experience.
The survey, which was conducted by the research firm NRG in May and analyzed responses from 3,000 U.S. consumers ages 13 to 54 who had at least one paid subscription to a streaming service and watched at least four hours of streaming content per week, found 63% of streaming viewer respondents said they’ve at least seen headlines about the strike, but just 13% said they understand “a lot” about the strike and the reasons behind it.
More than two-thirds, however, expressed concern about the use of AI in Hollywood.
“To me that’s an early warning sign of a potential backlash if studios are seen to be using AI specifically for the strike,” Katie Kelley, NRG’s executive vice president of content and strategy and a former vice president of market research at Paramount Pictures told TheWrap.
The guild is on strike for the first time since February 2008 after it was unable to reach a deal in contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers before a May 1 deadline. The strike involves a long list of concerns that the writers want Hollywood studios to address, from addressing the use of artificial intelligence to the low pay involved in writing streaming series to reining in “mini-rooms” used to skirt contractual pay practices.
Concern and curiosity
According to the survey, consumers remain uncertain about how they feel about the use of AI in the entertainment industry, but they’re also open to its potential.
Just 12% of the respondents surveyed thought that studios should embrace AI wholeheartedly and use it to write scripts with minimal human input, compared to 32% of viewers who said that the entertainment industry should avoid using AI entirely. Approximately 38% of respondents surveyed said that AI may have a role to play in the industry, but should only be used responsibly and under the direction of experienced human screenwriters.
“When you add those together, it means that more than two-thirds either want the industry to avoid using it or only use it under the discretion of humans,” Kelley said. “I think that’s a compelling data point.”
More than a quarter of viewers (28%) said they would be less interested in watching a show if they found out that it was written with the help of an AI, while only 13% said that they would be more interested. Those who were most likely to say they’d be more interested were respondents under the age of 18 (18%) and conservatives (17%). The majority of survey respondents (59%) were either unsure or said it would have no impact on their viewing decisions.
About 26% of surveyed viewers said they expect AI to have a net positive impact on the film industry, compared to 36% who said it would have a negative impact. For TV and streaming, those figures were 29% and 34%, respectively. The survey also found that viewers are more open to the idea of AI being used to help write fictional stories than news or educational content. About 23% say they’d be excited to watch a movie written by AI, and 18% said the same about a scripted TV comedy; conversely, only 14% said the same about news shows.
Respondents who strongly supported the strike were found to be the most likely to oppose the use of AI in entertainment, with 46% of them saying the technology should not be used at all. About 30% of strike supporters surveyed were worried about a future of over-reliance on AI to write shows and movies — double the number of those who are worried about the same issue among those who oppose the strike.
Kelley said the data suggested to her that concern could grow as “awareness builds” and warned that studios using AI to get around the strike or weaken the position of the WGA could end up creating a longer-term barrier to the public’s ultimate acceptance of AI as a screenwriting tool.
“If studios are generally interested in exploring this new technology, I think they need to tread a little carefully during the strike period,” she said.
Confusion around impact
Among those who understand “a lot” about the reasons behind the strike, 74% said that they support it, suggesting that public support could grow as media coverage of the strike continues. Some 43% of viewers said they either “somewhat” or “strongly” support the strike, while just 13% opposed it. The remaining 44% either felt neutral towards the strike or said they didn’t know enough about it to have an opinion.
“That would suggest that as the media coverage kind of continues, maybe builds around the strike and those motivations do become maybe a little bit clearer to consumers that they are able to make up their minds,” Kelley noted. “It would suggest that as awareness builds, the same level of support will probably pan out in the long run.
While liberal viewers are one of the groups most likely to support the strike (57% support vs. 10% oppose), even conservatives tend to be supportive (34% support vs. 16% oppose).
When asked about their concerns regarding the impact of the strike, 31% of surveyed viewers expressed worry that this trike would lead to a lack of new movies. Similarly, 31% say they were worried the strike would lead to the early ending or cancellation of shows they enjoy. Other common fears cited by viewers included the postponement of shows they were excited for (28%), a lack of new scripted shows (28%), and compromised quality in upcoming shows and movies (26%).
The answers don’t necessarily reflect a deep understanding of the Hollywood production cycle: In fact, movies are the form of entertainment least likely to see any short-term impacts.
That’s because, Kelley said, “The way that the sausage gets made is slightly less important to consumers. They’re really going to be evaluating [entertainment] based on quality at the end of the day.”
While the most immediate impact of the strike has been the pausing of late-night variety shows, only 10% of streaming viewers say that this is an issue they care about — a statistic that likely reflects the swiftly declining ratings and revenue of late-night shows.
“It ties back to a general lack of understanding of what’s at stake here,” Kelley added. “It may be as some of these things persist for longer, the balance of what they care about and the balance of how they care and how they support the strike will shift.”
For all of TheWrap’s WGA Strike coverage, click here.