Creative Culture Journal

The best site on the web for what is real in arts & entertainment


Edition I - 2023

AI Rocks the Creative World 

This edition of CCJ, we are focusing on the economic realities of being a "creative", as it is playing out in the Writer's Guild of America's strike against the movie and television production studios.

The writer's have seen their incomes shrink, and now feel, with the introduction of artiticial intelligence in the content creation process, that they may be becoming obsolete. According to the L.A. Times, Business Insider, and other sources, Writers Guild of America employees earn $63,000 annually on average, or $30 per hour. This is 5% lower than the national salary average of $66,000 per year. (NOTE: This figure may not reflect the actual earnings of individual writers, as it may include other staff members of the WGA.)

Other sources suggest that the median income for TV series writers was $154,000 in 2019-20, which was a 23% decrease from the median income of $200,000 in 2013-14. This source also reported that half of all TV series writers were paid the basic minimum rate under the WGA contract, which was up from 33% in 2013-14. The basic minimum rate for a TV series writer varies depending on the length and type of the program, but it ranges from $6,036 to $38,302 per episode.

Therefore, based on these sources, it seems that the average income for Writers Guild of America members is somewhere between $63,000 and $154,000 per year, but it may be higher or lower depending on various factors. That may sound like good money to folks living in many parts of America, but for those writers living on the coast, those figures indicate that many WGA members can hardly make rent. That seems profound, given the way the movie and television industry come to a complete halt once the writers stop writing.

What is the Status of the Writer's Strike? 

To get anywhere in Hollywood, you have to go through the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

Founded in 1924, at the very beginning of the American movie industry, the AMPTP (Sherman Oaks, California) represents over 350 American television and film production companies in collective bargaining negotiations with entertainment industry trade unions. 

These include SAG-AFTRA, the Directors Guild of America, the Writers Guild of America, the American Federation of Musicians, and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. 

The AMPTP is responsible for negotiating various industry-wide collective bargaining agreements that cover issues such as wages, benefits, working conditions, residuals, and royalties for the entertainment workers. The AMPTP also deals with disputes and grievances that may arise from these agreements.

The current situation with the Hollywood writer’s strike is that it is still ongoing and has no clear end in sight. Here are some of the key points you need to know: 

  • The strike began on May 2, 2023, after the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) failed to reach an agreement on a new three-year film and TV contract. 
  • The main issues of contention are the writers’ demands for higher wages, better streaming residuals, and more protection from artificial intelligence (AI) that could replace human writers. 
  • The strike affects more than 11,500 WGA members who work on scripted shows and movies across broadcast, cable, and streaming platforms. It also impacts thousands of other workers in the entertainment industry, such as actors, directors, crew members, and service providers. 
  • The strike has already disrupted the production and release of many shows and movies, especially those that rely on late-night comedy writers, soap opera writers, and animation writers. Some of the affected shows include Saturday Night Live , The Late Show with Stephen Colbert , The Simpsons , and Grey’s Anatomy 45. 
  • The strike could last for several months, as the previous WGA strikes in 2007-08 and 1988 did. The 2007-08 strike lasted for 100 days and cost the industry an estimated $2.5 billion. The 1988 strike lasted for 153 days and cost $500 million. The strike could end sooner if the WGA and the AMPTP resume negotiations and reach a compromise. However, as of now, there is no date set for the next bargaining session. 

Some observers believe that the pressure from other unions, such as SAG-AFTRA and the Directors Guild of America (DGA), could help break the impasse. The DGA recently reached a tentative deal with the AMPTP that includes some of the writers’ demands.

The Big Six

When the WGA strike is discussed, the people who are really being represented by the AMPTP are the those who run “the big six” media conglomerates, who dominate the American and international movie and television markets. The big six are listed below, along with the names of the CEO and other executives at the top of that pyramid of power and influence. They make huge money, especially compared to the writers who develop the content that makes their vast wealth possible. They all take base salaries that range from $1.4 million to $3.4 million per year, but usually make more on their stock options and annual bonuses. 

Owing to the Covid pandemic, the last five years have been "difficult" for the studios. They did $11.89 billion of business in 2018, but in 2021 only pulled in a paltry $2.08 billion. The closing of movie theaters forced a revision of entertainment business models, and there has been revolutionary change in this period, with streaming services taking a huge share of the market that had previously gone to movie distributors supplying product to theater venues.

Disney is, far and away, the most profitable operation, largely on the strength of their franchises (they have six of the top thirteen, including the Marvel, Star Wars, and Pirates of the Caribbean series).

  • Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE), which owns Columbia Pictures, TriStar Pictures, Screen Gems, Sony Pictures Classics, and other subsidiaries. 
Chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment is Tony Vinciquerra - made $4.5 million last year. Sony earned $3.21 billion in 2020.  
  • Comcast/Universal Pictures (CPU/U), which owns Universal Studios, DreamWorks Animation, Focus Features, Illumination Entertainment, and other subsidiaries. 
Comcast CEO Brian L. Roberts made $34 million in 2021, a decrease from his previous year. Universal Pictures alone earned $4.23 billion in 2020, only a part of the Comcast empire.   
  • 20th Century Fox (21 C-FOX), which owns Fox Searchlight Pictures, Blue Sky Studios, Fox 2000 Pictures, and other subsidiaries. It was acquired by Disney in 2019.
The current CEO of 20th Century Studios is Stacey Snide, whose annual income is not publicly available, but she is said to have a net worth of $6 million, which seems low given her long executive experience.   
  • Paramount Pictures Corporation (PPR), which owns Paramount Animation, MTV Films, Nickelodeon Movies, and other subsidiaries. 
The current CEO of Paramount Pictures is Brian Robbins, who also serves as the President and CEO of Nickelodeon and oversees all of the films produced for streaming service Paramount+ and its kids and family content. A former actor, producer, director, Robbins has a net worth of around $150 million. Paramount did $2.65 billion of box office in 2020.   
  • Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (TWX), which owns New Line Cinema, Warner Animation Group, DC Films, Castle Rock Entertainment, and other subsidiaries. 
The current CEO of Warner Brothers Entertainment is David Zaslav, whose compensation in 2020 was $37.4 million. They brought in $5.58 billion in 2020. Zaslav also serves as the President and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, the merged entity of WarnerMedia and Discovery, Inc., which owns a portfolio of media and entertainment brands such as HBO, CNN, HGTV, Discovery+, and more.   
  • Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures (DISNEY), which owns Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Studios (formerly 20th Century Fox), Searchlight Pictures (formerly Fox Searchlight Pictures), and other subsidiaries. 
The current CEO of Disney is Bob Igor. Sources suggest that his annual compensation for 2020 was $21 million, which was a 56 percent decrease from his compensation of $47.5 million in 20193. His income included a base salary of $1.6 million, a cash bonus of $13.4 million, stock awards worth $4.9 million, and other compensation worth $1.1 million34.   

These six mega corporations collectively command approximately 80 to 85% of U.S. box office revenue and release hundreds of films every year into all significant international markets. They are also known for their popular franchises such as Spider-Man , Jurassic Park , Star Wars , Marvel Cinematic Universe , Harry Potter , and Pirates of the Caribbean .

Money-making Independents

Based on this method, here are some of the possible candidates for the most profitable independent film studio: 

  • A24, which has produced or distributed acclaimed films such as Moonlight , Lady Bird , Hereditary , Uncut Gems , and Minari . According to Box Office Mojo, A24 has grossed over $1.2 billion worldwide from its films since 2013. 
  • Lionsgate, which has produced or distributed popular franchises such as The Hunger Games , John Wick , Saw , and Twilight . According to Box Office Mojo, Lionsgate has grossed over $15.6 billion worldwide from its films since 1997. 
  • Blumhouse Productions, which has produced or distributed successful horror films such as Paranormal Activity , Get Out , The Purge , and Halloween . According to Box Office Mojo, Blumhouse has grossed over $4.4 billion worldwide from its films since 2009. 
  • STX Entertainment, which has produced or distributed hit films such as Bad Moms , Hustlers , The Upside , and The Gentlemen . According to Box Office Mojo, STX has grossed over $1.8 billion worldwide from its films since 2015. 
  • Neon, which has produced or distributed award-winning films such as Parasite , I, Tonya , Portrait of a Lady on Fire , and Palm Springs . According to Box Office Mojo, Neon has grossed over $300 million worldwide from its films since 2017.

The Economics of Production

Every movie or television production you ever see comes with a list of producers and executive producers. Those people are typically investors, who have banked money on production costs betting better than equal returns. Some producers are front-line workers, actually involved in daily production chores, and those peoplel often work on salary.

According to a query on how much money television and movie producers earn for their involvements, the answer depends entirely on the producers' roles and their good fortune in aligning themselves with big franchise projects. Otherwise put, a few fat cats make a fortune as producers, but most producers scrape by, rather like writers.

According to the web search, the average income of a Hollywood producer depends on the type, length and budget of the project they work on, as well as their experience and reputation.

According to one source, the median annual salary for a producer in TV and films is just $66,121. However, the typical Hollywood film producer earns $750,000 to $1 million per movie, though first-time producers might make only $250,000. Producers behind monster box office hits can pull in tens of millions.

According to another source, the national average movie producer salary is $58,857 a year; this includes small documentaries and other lesser-known projects.

According to another, the median annual wage for producers and directors was $79,000 in May 2021. This source also reported that the highest-paying industries for producers and directors were advertising, public relations, and related services ($99,810); motion picture and video industries ($98,680); and performing arts, spectator sports, and related industries ($80,570).

Some independent Hollywood producers make millions. Producers of big-budget blockbuster films average anywhere from $250,000 to upwards of $750,000 per film.

Living Large on a Tight Budget

The Writer's Guild of America has East and West branches, situated in New York City and Los Angeles respectively. It seems likely that the greatest number of WGA members live and work in one of those two locations, which happen to be some of the most expensive places in the country to rent or buy living space. Apartments and homes tend to be small, especially in the lower ranges of affordability. Lot sizes are diminutive, which has a significant impact on the lives of writers with families, especially those including children. Quality of life is a real issue for those creatives attempting to survive in a tough business - selling words. That business has become tougher yet with the advent of ChatGPT technology, which to some extent obviates the need for "creatives" altogether.

A one bedroom apartment in Los Angeles will cost you about $2,400 per month. The average size of a one bedroom apartment in Los Angeles ranges from 604 square feet to 788 square feet. Rent on a two-bedroom home in Los Angeles will run from $3,100 to $3,957 per month. To buy a two-bedroom home in Los Angeles will cost you from $878,000 to $1,099,000. The average square footage of a 2-bedroom home in Los Angeles ranges from 788 square feet to 1,543 square feet, but it sits on a 20’x35′ lot size - not a lot of yard for the kids to play.

The cost to rent a one-bedroom apartment in New York City ranges from $2,059 to $4,074 per month. The average size of an apartment in New York City ranges from 774 square feet to 947 square feet. The rent for a two-bedroom home in New York City ranges from $3,957 to $6,735 per month. The cost to buy a two-bedroom home in New York City ranges from $200k to $20 million or more. The average square footage of a two-bedroom home in NYC ranges from 700 square feet to 983 square feet, but it may be higher or lower depending on various factors. The average lot size for a two-bedroom home in NYC may be around 20’x35′ or 700 square feet,



Streaming, or Steaming, Depending

Getting a clear accounting of entertainment industry product sales has always been a little difficult, especially for artists wondering where all the money from their hit records is going to. This has never been more true than now, when streaming of individual tracks is the primary form of music consumption. Getting good data on streaming seems to be hard.

Billboard, Apple Music, Spotify, and Official Charts all track streaming data.

According to Billboard’s Streaming Songs chart, which ranks the most-streamed songs in the U.S. based on on-demand streams from both paid and ad-supported services, the top 10 streaming songs for the week of June 10, 2023 are:

  1. Last Night by Morgan Wallen 
  2. All My Life by Lil Durk featuring J. Cole Ella Baila 
  3. Sola by Eslabon Armado x Peso Pluma 
  4. Karma by Taylor Swift featuring Ice Spice 
  5. Fast Car by Luke Combs 
  6. Favorite Song by Toosii 
  7. Where She Goes by Bad Bunny 
  8. Something In The Orange by Zach Bryan 
  9. Kill Bill by SZA 
  10. Stand By Me by Lil Durk featuring Morgan Wallen 

According to Apple Music’s US Top 40 | Chart Hits 2023 playlist, which features the top 40 trending tracks in the U.S., the top 10 streaming songs as of June 9, 2023 are: 

  1. Eyes Closed by Ed Sheeran 
  2. La Bebe (Remix) by Yng Lvcas x Peso Pluma 
  3. Boy’s a liar, Pt. 2 by PinkPantheress & Ice Spice 
  4. Cupid (Twin Ver.) by FIFTY FIFTY 
  5. 10:35 by Tiësto & Tate McRae 
  6. Kill Bill by SZA 
  7. VOID by Melanie Martinez 
  8. Flowers by Miley Cyrus 
  9. I’m Good (Blue) by David Guetta & Bebe Rexha 
  10. Anti-Hero by Taylor Swift 

According to Spotify’s list of most-streamed songs of all time, which ranks the songs with the highest number of streams globally since their release, the top 10 streaming songs as of May 2023 are: 

  1. Shape of You by Ed Sheeran (3.1 billion streams) 
  2. Dance Monkey by Tones and I (2.7 billion streams) 
  3. Blinding Lights by The Weeknd (2.6 billion streams) 
  4. Rockstar by Post Malone featuring 21 Savage (2.4 billion streams)
  5. One Dance by Drake featuring Wizkid and Kyla (2 billion streams) 
  6. Closer by The Chainsmokers featuring Halsey (1.9 billion streams)
  7. Sunflower by Post Malone and Swae Lee (1.9 billion streams)
  8. Someone You Loved by Lewis Capaldi (1.8 billion streams) 
  9. Senorita by Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello (1.8 billion streams)
  10. Believer by Imagine Dragons (1.7 billion streams) 

According to Official Charts’ list of the biggest songs of 2023 so far, which ranks the songs with the highest combined sales and streams in the U.K., the top 10 streaming songs as of April 6, 2023 are: 

  1. Calm Down by Rema & Selena Gomez (1 million combined sales)
  2. People by Morgan Wallen (0.9 million combined sales) 
  3. Drivers License by Olivia Rodrigo (0.8 million combined sales) 
  4. Sure Thing by Miguel (0.7 million combined sales) 
  5. Wellerman by Nathan Evans (0.7 million combined sales) 
  6. Save Your Tears Remix by The Weeknd & Ariana Grande (0.6 million combined sales) 
  7. Friday Remix by Riton x Nightcrawlers featuring Mufasa & Hypeman (0 .6 million combined sales) 
  8. Without You Remix by The Kid Laroi & Miley Cyrus (0 .6 million combined sales) 
  9. The Business Part II by Tiësto & Ty Dolla $ign (0 .5 million combined sales)
  10. Levitating by Dua Lipa featuring DaBaby (0 .5 million combined sales)

About those Numbers and Royalties 

Do any of those figures make any sense to you?  Clearly each tracking organization follows a certain segment of the music industry, with remarkably little crossover. There is also such great disparency in the totals shown by those that show totals, it cast doubt on the huge numbers shown by Spotify (for instance). 

They certainly don't square with the information provided below on mechanical royalties regarding the 9.1 cents that is made on each stream of a track. So, did Ed Sheeran's 3.1 billion streams of "Shape of You" earn his "team" over $470 million dollars during that May period? Seems unlikely, so how is streaming working for the music industry?

It is hard to know. Music streaming has only exacerbated issues of fairness and transparency regarding royalty payments to artists and songwriters, who continue to have little control or visibility over how their royalties are calculated and distributed. 

According to a study by Soundcharts, the average payout per stream on Spotify is $0.00348, which means an artist would need about 288 streams to earn a dollar. According to another study by Citigroup, artists received only about 12% of the $43 billion that the music industry generated in 2017. 


Pro Song Crafters

The way publishing profits are dispersed is determined by writer credits, which has historically meant that songwriter credits are a suspect thing. Producers affix their names to songwriting credits to get a share of the returns. Conversely, performers affix their names to songwriting credits for the same reasons. Royalties come in various forms, and they are the gift that keeps on giving.

The two main types of songwriting royalties are: 

  • Mechanical royalties, which are paid to songwriters and publishers each time their composition is distributed physically (CDs, vinyl) or digitally (on-demand downloads, streaming). The rate for mechanical royalties is set by law and varies by country. In the U.S., the current statutory rate is 9.1 cents per song or 1.75 cents per minute of playing time, whichever is greater. 
  • Performance royalties, which are paid to songwriters and publishers each time their composition is performed publicly (radio, TV, live venues, online platforms). The rate for performance royalties is negotiated by performing rights organizations (PROs), such as ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC in the U.S., who collect and distribute these royalties to their members. The rate depends on various factors, such as the type of use, the duration of use, and the popularity of the song. 

There are other types of songwriting royalties, such as synchronization royalties (paid for using a song in a visual media, such as a movie, TV show, or video game), print music royalties (paid for printing a song in sheet music or books), and grand rights royalties (paid for using a song in a theatrical production). However, these are less common and usually require a separate license agreement between the songwriter/publisher and the user.

However the income is divided up, the music industry relies on rainmakers who can reliably develop music product crafted to the personas created for various performers (like Taylor Swift). The following are the foundational songwriters of our day, even if they are unknown to casual music fans:

Max Martinhas co-written or co-produced 23 No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making him the third-most successful songwriter in history behind Paul McCartney and John Lennon. He has also won six Grammy Awards and was named Songwriter of the Year by ASCAP 11 times. He has co-written songs for artists such as Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, The Weeknd, Ariana Grande, and Ed Sheeran. 

Ryan Tedder, who has co-written or co-produced 10 No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, as well as many other top 10 hits. He has also won three Grammy Awards and was named Songwriter of the Year by BMI in 2016. He has co-written songs for artists such as Beyoncé, Adele, Maroon 5, OneRepublic, Kelly Clarkson, and Sam Smith. 

Julia Michaels, who has co-written or co-produced seven No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, as well as many other top 10 hits. She has also been nominated for five Grammy Awards and was named Songwriter of the Year by BMI in 2018. She has co-written songs for artists such as Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Shawn Mendes, Dua Lipa, and Lady Gaga. 

Finneas O’Connell, who has co-written or co-produced six No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, all with his sister Billie Eilish. He has also won seven Grammy Awards and was named Producer of the Year by Billboard in 2020. He has co-written songs for artists such as Camila Cabello, Halsey, Selena Gomez, and Justin Bieber. 

Shane McAnally, who has co-written or co-produced over 40 No. 1 hits on the Billboard Country Airplay chart, making him one of the most successful country songwriters of all time. He has also won three Grammy Awards and was named Songwriter of the Year by ACM and CMA multiple times. He has co-written songs for artists such as Kenny Chesney, Kacey Musgraves, Sam Hunt, Miranda Lambert, and Luke Combs.


The CCJ is frequently alerted to acts, on both sides of the Atlantic, that are doing interesting things. This edition we focus on Waverly Drive, Das Koolies, Peter Case, Small Millions, The Waymores, and James McMurtry and Bettysoo. Use this link to visit the "Creative Radar" page.

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