SAG-AFTRA leaders painted a sunny picture of their ongoing negotiations in a video released over the weekend, saying the talks were “very productive” and promising to reach a “basic agreement.”
But according to multiple sources familiar with the dynamic in the negotiating room, the two sides remain far apart on a host of key issues. With only a few days left before the current SAG-AFTRA contract expires on Friday, some are privately anticipating extending the talks beyond the June 30 deadline, though the move has yet to be formally broached in the negotiating room with the Motion Picture Alliance. and television producers.
SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher is leading union contract negotiations for the first time alongside Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, union executive director and chief negotiator. In the room, Drescher was the more outspoken of the two, arguing that the studios had broken the traditional business model and needed to make wholesale changes to the contract.
One major drawback is the problem with viewer-based streaming, which has also been on the list of demands from the Writers Guild of America, which has been on strike against AMPTP companies since May 2.
SAG-AFTRA has proposed a standard residual portion bonus for the most viewed shows. But AMPTP refused to keep up.
One of the challenges is getting a common metric that works across all streaming platforms. Each platform measures views differently, and also considers this data to be strictly confidential.
SAG-AFTRA suggested using data from Parrot Analytics as standard. The research company, which was founded a decade ago, uses a mix of data sources — including search queries, fan sites, social media share and downloads — to estimate the global popularity of shows.
But studios have been unwilling to tie compensation to third-party estimates, which may not be completely reliable and could be subject to unannounced algorithm or game changes. For example, actors may be able to benefit from increased social media engagement that doesn’t translate into subscriptions or even viewership.
The Directors Guild of America — which sets the template for the remaining formats — ratified its contract on June 23, which includes a 76% increase in foreign streaming hangovers, but doesn’t factor in viewership. Despite vocal opposition expressed by some directors and some joint WGA-DGA members, the DGA contract was approved by a margin of 87%.
Under the current formulas, the residual payments stream to all three syndicates is based on a pre-determined compensation formula that tapers off over time as the TV show or movie progresses. The platforms are tiered based on subscribers, with the higher tiers paying the highest residual value. But the payments are the same regardless of the popularity of the show.
SAG-AFTRA and WGA members have argued that there is much less leftover stream than traditional broadcast leftovers, and that maintaining healthy leftovers is key to allowing creators to sustain their careers. They have also argued that it is necessary to allow the writers and performers to be involved in the success of the shows.
AMPTP represents more than 300 producers, most of whom – just as talented – do not have any access to broadcast data. Netflix is also involved in the talks as the producer, but not as the distributor.
DGA leaders have suggested that it will take widespread adoption of broadcast advertising to generate reliable viewership metrics, though that may not solve the problem for content creators.
SAG-AFTRA was unwilling to settle the terms the DGA had reached on other issues either, including basic increases in the bottom line. DGA deals require a 5% increase in the basic minimum payments in the first year of the three-year contract, followed by a 4% increase in the second year and 3.5% in the third year. SAG-AFTRA is also seeking strong AI protections, including provisions governing AI training — which will go beyond the language the DGA obtained in its contract.
Before the talks began, SAG-AFTRA members voted overwhelmingly for permission to strike. However, the video released on Saturday appears to send a message that a strike is not imminent.
At this point in the WGA talks, the union was organizing picket events and sending out strike rules. SAG-AFTRA has done none of these things.
SAG-AFTRA also holds internal elections this year, which are usually hotly contested. However, the two factions, Unite for Strength and Membership First, announced on Monday that they would support Drescher as head of the “Unity List.” Drescher was elected two years ago as head of the Unite for Strength faction.
Membership First leader Joely Fisher is the treasurer. The two factions agreed on candidates for another term.
The goal is to avoid splitting the union internally, which could undermine the union’s position in negotiations.
(Pictured: SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher and WGA President Meredith Steim)
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