SAG/AFTRA inch closer to ad tracking system

HOLLYWOOD — A longtime sore point for actors — the absence of a system to monitor the thousands of commercials aired each day — remains unresolved nearly a year after settlement of a bitter SAG/AFTRA strike against the ad industry.

Union actors and the ad industry edged closer this week toward establishing the first tracking system for commercials, as called for under the thesps’ 10-month-old contract. But a joint union/industry standing committee, meeting Tuesday in Gotham, was not able to finalize selection of a company to track the airing of commercials.

Funds have been earmarked for that purpose and are contractually set aside at the rate of about $1 million a year. The selection could come in early November at the panel’s next confab following input from a subcommittee, according to Screen Actors Guild spokesman Greg Krizman.

“The naming of a monitoring company is definitely on the radar,” he said. “There should be substantial movement soon.”

Complex agreement

Krizman said the seemingly slow pace of tapping a company was due to the complexities of reaching agreement on questions of how to monitor ads with union performers. SAG also has been hampered this year by the absence of a national exec director until the appointment of Robert Pisano two weeks ago.

The creation of a monitoring mechanism was a key demand in the six-month strike by SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, along with improved cable payments and Internet jurisdiction. Union reps, who had complained for years that the ad industry had under-reported commercial residuals, brought to the table a SAG pilot study of 38 ads showing underpayments totaling more than $210,000.

“We all knew we were not getting paid fairly for the reuse of commercials, but all the evidence was anecdotal,” said SAG 11th VP and negotiating team chair David Jolliffe. “We proved to advertisers that there was an underpayment problem. So I’m heartened that the joint committee is making progress.”

The SAG/AFTRA contract contains a pair of key provisions on monitoring: that both sides meet and report on possible commercial identification approaches within six months and that the industry contribute 0.15% of the contract’s value to the Industry Advancement & Cooperative Fund for possible use on monitoring. With SAG’s annual commercial earnings at about $600 million, that contribution will total about $3 million during the life of the deal.

AFTRA does not disclose its commercial earnings, but its contribution on this contract is estimated at well under 10%.

Feds involved

Another development in the issue emerged a few days before the strike was settled when Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) requested the U.S. Dept. of Justice investigate underpayments after learning of the SAG study. Justice subsequently referred the matter to the Federal Trade Commission, which has not disclosed if it has launched a probe.

Jolliffe recently wrote a letter to SAG presidential candidate Melissa Gilbert, objecting to her contention that current leaders have done “nothing” about actors being shortchanged for commercials.

“It is simply untrue for you to state that the current leadership has done nothing about the underpayment of commercial residuals to performers,” he said. “In fact, it is quite to the contrary.”

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