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SAG, studios feel the pressure

Negotiations expected to intensify

Will the Screen Actors Guild blink, now that it has an extra week at the negotiating table?

As SAG negotiations with the majors enter their ninth day, the town’s still waiting to see if the guild will compromise enough for a deal to be reached by next Friday — the new deadline for completing this round of bargaining. Talks will resume at noon today at the headquarters of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

SAG still hasn’t backed off proposals that include several nonstarters for the companies. Most notably, the guild’s still insisting on increased DVD residuals and a shorter period of free usage for promotional purposes for streamed content than the 17- and 24-day windows in the DGA and WGA deals.

After sending a mixed message Wednesday — that “significant gaps” remained but that it wanted to extend the talks for a week — the AMPTP refused to make any further comment. But people familiar with the situation remain mildly optimistic that a deal can emerge over the next week.

For that to occur, both sides will need to begin moving toward give-and-take bargaining in the next few sessions. Negotiations, which have been notable for the absence of hostility, are expected to intensify in coming days.

SAG’s contract expires June 30, and guild leaders have insisted they don’t want to strike. But the town remains on yellow alert, with major studios unwilling to commit to starting a feature until the guild’s new deal is wrapped up.

SAG’s also facing pressure from AFTRA. If the guild can’t make a deal by next Friday, it may face the prospect of seeing AFTRA sign its own deal on primetime shows and then using that to expand coverage in areas of shared jurisdiction.

AFTRA ditched its 27-year joint bargaining agreement with SAG in late March following a series of bitter disputes over jurisdiction and strategy. But it agreed Wednesday with the AMPTP’s request to delay the start of its own negotiations for a week.

In a related development, SAG gave a general briefing to its members Thursday on the new-media proposals, noting that more than 9 billion videos are watched online per month. 

“This year the leading 100 media companies will realize an estimated $20.7 billion in Internet revenue,” SAG said. “And advertisers will spend $2.9 billion annually on online video ads by 2010. All this adds up to tremendous opportunities for actors.”

The guild also noted that some shows are being streamed live multiple times before the episode is scheduled to broadcast and that some series have their entire catalog of episodes available for ad-supported streaming. It gave few details about its proposals, however, saying that it’s asking for “reasonable” minimums, residuals and protections.

“SAG is not asking for jurisdiction in new media to be granted by the AMPTP because we already have jurisdiction,” it added. “In fact, through our new-media organizing efforts, we have already signed over 400 independent producers to SAG new-media contracts, and the number is growing daily.”

AFTRA goes its own way

In a move that underscores the differences between AFTRA and SAG, AFTRA announced Thursday that president Roberta Reardon has appointed a special committee officially charged to study proposals that would limit member voting for major AFTRA freelance performer contracts to those who meet a work requirement. That panel was ordered to report to the national board meeting in June.

SAG’s national board split on the issue two weeks ago before 60% of that panel voted to refer the matter to a committee with no deadline for reporting back.

By limiting voting to SAG members who work regularly, the “qualified voting” proposal probably would have resulted in less support for a possible strike when the contract expires June 30. But opponents have asserted that the idea is elitist and goes against the democratic principles of SAG.

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