EXCLUSIVE (Keep refreshing for latest updates): I can now report that the negotiations between the Screen Actors Guild and the AMPTP are not making any progress with both sides very far apart and very frustrated. Negotiators for the Hollywood CEOs are privately making it clear they plan to make a deal first with AFTRA in order to use that as a wedge to soften up SAG. And, get this — my sources tell me that the AMPTP is now prepared to wait out SAG for a deal until as late as mid-July. Which means the Big Media moguls are virtually daring SAG to strike when its contract expires the end of June.
I am, frankly, appalled. It’s already clear that this week’s move by the AMPTP to delay the start of talks with AFTRA is an utter sham. A game plan is already in place, just like the one that the AMPTP worked up to try to foil the WGA’s contract demands. For that scenario, the AMPTP used the DGA to soften up the WGA. In the end, the WGA-AMPTP deal was incrementally better but not by much.
The AMPTP is furious that SAG negotiators are intent on getting a better deal for its actor members than the WGA’s or the DGA’s on formulas for both New Media and also DVD residuals.
Here’s what’s happened so far as of the 9th day of bargaining. Both sides have presented their terms. SAG has now responded to the AMPTP’s New Media proposals, which I understand are simply a restatement of the DGA and WGA deals. Both Peter Chernin and Bob Iger in backchannel talks with SAG leadership, including during a session as recently as the 2nd week in April, have been repeatedly saying that the studios and networks won’t budge on those previously agreed-to numbers. In turn, the SAG leadership insist that the actors have different needs than either the writers or directors — and that, as a result, SAG will not back down from revisiting the DVD residual formulas or substantially bettering the New Media numbers as well.
I’m told the SAG negotiators did spend a day and a half recently posing questions to the AMPTP side in order to present their initial counterproposals. But I’m told the AMPTP thinks those counterproposals offer only glacial movement from SAG’s original proposals. In turn, the AMPTP came back with its own set of questions for SAG. But I understand that only the barest of movement by the studios and networks’ latest offer is anticipated.
The result is a near-stalemate at this early juncture. The AMPTP, I’m told, doesn’t anticipate any substantial movement in the talks next week — so I’m not sure why the network and studio negotiators even bothered to ask AFTRA to delay the start of their negotiations. Unless it was to create artificial drama and present SAG in the worst possible light, which is exactly what the AMPTP did over and over with the WGA.
I predict that, after May 5th, the AMPTP will put the SAG talks on a de facto hiatus and focus instead on making a quick and far less costly agreement with AFTRA which, after all, has a long history of making less lucrative deals for actors with the networks and studios. Once that’s done, Hollywood will surely have to suffer during what will be a long period of uncertainty while the AMPTP either stays away from the bargaining table — again, just like it did with the WGA — or conducts what can only be termed disingenuous negotiating. All the while, of course, the AMPTP PR machinery will blame SAG for “wanting” to bring the Industry to another grinding halt.
But let’s be perfectly clear about what’s fact and what’s fiction. And the fact is that the AMPTP right now is already prepared not to close a deal with SAG until, my sources say, even as late as the middle of July. I do hope that SAG can restrain itself when its contract expires at the end of June and hold off calling a strike for a reasonable period after that. Still, with that kind of uncertainty hanging over the entertainment business, I forsee more turmoil.
But there’s no need for that. If the networks and studios want to demonstrate their seriousness right now, they will have Chernin and Iger immediately step in and take over the negotiations with SAG. Those two in the end made the deal with the writers, and they can make the deal with the biggest actors union, too. What much smaller AFTRA does or doesn’t do with its handful of primetime scripted network shows (and no motion pictures) will have no effect on the SAG leadership, trust me. What could have an efect is if IATSE’s Tom Short gets involved and, for once, puts pressure on Chernin, Iger, et al, to act in a more timely fashion. After all, Short’s membership will only suffer otherwise. There’s no good reason to wait until July. The moguls will still have to partially meet SAG’s demands sooner or later because time is simply on the side of the big actors union as long as it doesn’t implement a strike. Make a deal and make it now.
UPDATE: SAG JUST SENT TO MEMBERS ITS 2008 CONTRACT REPORT #2 ABOUT NEW MEDIA (IT’S A FOLLOW-UP TO #1 ABOUT MIDDLE INCOME ACTORS):
SAG CONTRACT 2008 REPORT
Number 2 — New Media
April 24, 2008
SAG and the AMPTP have been meeting since negotiations began on April 15. Our proposals address many of the new media issues specifically confronting actors today. Below is information on this important topic.
Why Is New Media Important To Actors?
Today 134 million Americans (or 3 in 4 Internet users) view online videos each month. This means over 9 billion videos are watched online per month. YouTube alone has over 200 million unique visitors every month. This year the leading 100 media companies will realize an estimated $20.7 billion in Internet revenue. And advertisers will spend $2.9 billion annually on online video ads by 2010. All this adds up to tremendous opportunities for actors.
What is the current state of affairs in new media?
• This season some shows are being streamed live multiple times before the episode is scheduled to broadcast.
• Some series have their entire catalog of episodes available for ad supported streaming.
• Ad supported streams, downloads for rental and electronic sell through of feature films are now available.
• Some made-for new media content is moving to broadcast television.
• Made-for new media content is being created to complement the coming fall broadcast lineup.
• Subscription services are offering unlimited streams of their television and film catalogs to subscribers.
• Producers are setting up new studio systems for the creation and distribution of new media content.
• Producers are editing library content down to snack size pieces for new media distribution.
Here’s what we are asking for:
1. Reasonable minimums for actors’ work in content made-for new media.
2. Reasonable residuals for actors’ work in content made-for new media.
3. Reasonable residuals for actors’ work in content moved over from traditional media to new media.
4. Reasonable protections and compensation for actors’ work moved over from new media to traditional media.
What About Jurisdiction in New Media?
SAG is not asking for jurisdiction in new media to be granted by the AMPTP because we already have jurisdiction. In fact, through our new media organizing efforts, we have already signed over 400 independent producers to SAG new media contracts and the number is growing daily.
Please note that the above is not intended to be an exhaustive list of our proposals. It is just intended to keep you informed of the highlights. We will keep you apprised of developments as the negotiation process continues. Check SAG 24/7 website at http://www.sag.org/contract-2008-tvtheatrical-negotiations. Watch for Contract Report No. 3 on residuals coming to you Friday, April 25.