Studios hope actors drop online clip stipulation

Even as insiders insisted that a deal was within reach, AFTRA and the majors continued to test the town’s patience by going down to the wire after three weeks of talks.

With rival thesp union SAG champing at the bit to resume its negotiations at 10 a.m. today, AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Televison Producers had been widely expected to announce a tentative agreement Tuesday. Negotiators had worked for nine consecutive days, including well into evenings in recent sessions, to finalize details.

Instead, no deal had emerged as of late Tuesday amid a news blackout. Much of the negotiations have been devoted to a single issue — the companies’ proposal that actors agree to drop the consent requirement for online clips — and momentum has stalled on small details in recent sessions.

Uncertainty reigned Tuesday as to whether the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists talks would be extended into today to wrap up the negotiations. It’s understood the congloms have made it clear they won’t give AFTRA another specific date for resuming talks, opting instead to spend the next several weeks negotiating with SAG — mainly because that guild controls all feature work and most TV work.

Many labor observors had expected the AFTRA talks, which launched May 7, to wrap before this week. But AFTRA took a tough stance on the clips issue — mirroring SAG’s position — and declared it could not agree to give up on performer consent, which the companies insist is needed to make the clip business feasible.

AFTRA’s been operating in previously unkown territory by negotiating the primetime deal — which covers half a dozen shows — on its own for the first time in three decades following a bitter break-up with SAG. The town, which remains worried about a strike, is certain to praise AFTRA for making such a deal since it sets a template for SAG to follow, much as the DGA deal set the parameters for the WGA agreement earlier this year.

But an AFTRA pact may also be heavily criticized by SAG leadership, given the deeply troubled relationship between the performers unions. AFTRA split from joint negotiations in late March following a bitter jurisdictional dispute over “The Bold and the Beautiful,” while SAG’s repeatedly accused AFTRA of signing cable deals at lower initial terms.

AFTRA also spurned SAG’s two-pronged request May 6 to either step aside for a third time or go back to joint bargaining.

The SAG and AFTRA deals expire June 30. Hollywood’s been increasingly bothered by the lack of resolution in the wake of the 100-day writers strike, and major studios have refused to greenlight features until the SAG deal is done.

SAG negotiated for 18 days before talks recessed May 6 despite guild objections it was near a deal — even though major gaps remain on key issues such as clip consent, DVD residuals, product integration, force majeure and jurisdiction over low-budget projects for the Web. The AMPTP insisted it was obliged to launch twice-delayed talks with AFTRA the next day.

SAG’s negotiating committee met late Tuesday at guild headquarters and president Alan Rosenberg sent a message to members saying that the guild’s issues remain the same. And in a sign of ongoing bad blood, he also complained SAG observers had only been allowed to attend six of AFTRA’s negotiating sessions with the AMPTP — none over the past week.

SAG leaders have insisted they don’t want to strike and have not asked members for strike authorization. Such a move would require 75% support among those casting ballots.

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