Guild, ad biz to set up monitoring system

SAG and the ad industry plan to spend $1.5 million on creating a system to track TV commercials to ensure that performers receive full payment for ads that air.

Plans call for first creating an online searchable database of commercials that can be reviewed by performers, with a startup coming after a seven- to 12-month period for design and implementation. SAG and the industry also said they will investigate creating an “electronic clearinghouse” system that would use an electronic coding system.

Goal is to solve an ongoing headache for thesps who see their ads run on networks and cable without receiving compensation.

‘Cooperative mechanism’

“The unions and the advertising community are eager to develop a cooperative mechanism to track the use of commercials,” said Sallie Weaver, SAG deputy national exec director for contracts. “We, as artist representatives, must ensure that our members are paid correctly and on time, and advertisers want to make sure commercial buys are fulfilled. With our joint knowledge and experience in this area, combined with state-of-the-art computer technology, we can create a win-win situation for performers and advertisers.”

Friday’s announcement came three years after the guild reached an agreement with the industry to set aside $1 million annually to monitor the thousands of commercials aired each day. SAG also said two vendors have submitted bids for the system, which is viewed as an interim means of providing monitoring while a permanent system is developed to verify the accuracy of payments advertisers make to broadcast and cable media outlets as well as residuals payments to performers.

The issue of monitoring has been a sore spot for many years, with thesps complaining that the ad industry under-reporting residuals. Typically, residuals comprise more than 60% of what SAG members earn under commercial contracts; in 2002, sessions fees amounted to $206 million and residuals totaled $408 million.

SAG president Melissa Gilbert alleged in her 2001 campaign that the administration of predecessor William Daniels had done nothing about actors being shortchanged for commercials; challenger Kent McCord leveled the same charge against Gilbert during his recent campaign.

Issue took hold in 1999

The controversy first flared in 1999, when SAG released a pilot study of 38 ads showing underpayments totaling more than $388,000. As a result, creation of a monitoring mechanism was a key demand in 2000’s six-month strike by SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, along with improved cable payments and Internet jurisdiction.

The contract that was hammered out at the end of the strike 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 SAG-Industry Advancement & Cooperative Fund for possible use on monitoring.

With SAG’s annual commercial earnings at about $600 million, the contribution to the IACF has totaled about $3 million. SAG said Friday that it has submitted an application to the IACF seeking a $1.5 million grant for the monitoring system.

Ad industry negotiator Ira Shepard has said that the seemingly slow pace of working out a system was due not to rancor between the two sides but to a multitude of unresolved technical questions along with the need to reach a consensus among the owners of nets and cable systems.

SAG and AFTRA reached a tentative agreement last week with the ad industry on a new three-year deal after just two days of bargaining. Agreement must still be approved by the boards of SAG and AFTRA, which will meet today, and then ratified by the unions’ 140,000 members.

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