Fri. Feb 23rd, 2024

The planned Wednesday bargaining session between SAG-AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers was pushed back a day after the union told management it needed more time to respond to the latest offer put on the table.

The sides had been expected to meet today at SAG-AFTRA headquarters in Los Angeles. The sides are now expected to meet on Thursday, as SAG-AFTRA confirmed in a short statement to members sent Wednesday evening.

“Our committee spent today reviewing the latest AMPTP counter offer. We will be meeting across the table with the CEOs tomorrow,” the union’s negotiating committee wrote.

On Tuesday, as the sides gathered for the first time since talks broke down Oct. 11, the CEOs of four major entertainment companies offered SAG-AFTRA an improved bonus for the most-watched streaming shows, as well as higher increases in minimum rates.

But the studios are still not offering a cut of total streaming revenue, which the actors union has made the centerpiece of its demands to end its 104-day strike. Though the two sides continue to negotiate, there remains frustration on both sides that more progress has not been made.

The four CEOs — Bob Iger of Disney, Donna Langley of NBCUniversal, Ted Sarandos of Netflix, and David Zaslav of Warner Bros. Discovery — came to SAG-AFTRA’s mid-city headquarters on Tuesday for the sixth time this month, and the first time since talks broke down on Oct. 11. They are expected back at the table Wednesday.

In the Tuesday session, the CEOs sought to impress on SAG-AFTRA leadership the economic stakes as the stalemate drags on.

According to one source, the CEOs suggested that certain TV shows would have to be canceled if the strike goes on much longer. Some on the union side interpreted that as a threat, though on the studio side it was seen as laying out the basic realities of the broadcast production schedule.

The union has argued that actors are unable to make a sustainable living in the streaming ecosystem, and that a root-and-branch transformation of the compensation structure is required.

The union has also maintained that the studios must increase minimum rates to keep pace with inflation, with would amount to an 11% increase in the first year.

The studios have offered 5% — the same deal accepted by the Writers Guild of America and the Directors Guild of America. The CEOs offered on Tuesday to improve on that figure somewhat, though SAG-AFTRA still believes it is inadequate.

The union also believes the studios are exaggerating the value of the increase in a bid to make union negotiators look unreasonable. The studios argue that their figures are a straightforward and accurate reflection of the increased value of the offer compared to the contract agreed in 2020.

When the talks broke down, it was over the the union’s demand for 57 cents per year from each streaming subscription around the globe, which works out to $500 million annually. The actors currently receive about $126 million a year in streaming residuals, so the proposal would represent a four-fold increase.

The studios have balked at that, calling it “untenable,” and instead offered to pay actors a bonus residual if their shows attract a sizable viewership. The proposal is modeled on the WGA deal, which defines successful shows as those viewed by the equivalent of 20% of the platform’s subscribers within the first 90 days of release. As applied to SAG-AFTRA, the proposal would be worth about $20 million a year.

On Tuesday, the studios came back with an improved version that features a higher bonus for successful shows, but otherwise keeps the framework of the WGA deal. By one estimate, it would be worth about $27 million per year — still not close to the union’s demand — though another source said the actual value is higher.

The SAG-AFTRA strike has lasted 104 days, and the combined writers and actors strikes have lasted nearly six months.

The CEOs’ presence in the bargaining sessions is a sign of the urgency the studios’ feel about getting a deal. Bargaining is typically delegated to the labor lawyers and staff of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, and it is unusual for CEOs to play such an active role over an extended period of time.

The studios are worried that if they do not get a deal in the next week to 10 days, they will have to delay more summer blockbusters and scrap the 2023-24 scripted TV season.

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