Time still ticking on SAG’s watch

Progress elusive as talks move into third week

With Hollywood still unnerved about an actors strike, progress has remained elusive as negotiations between the Screen Actors Guild and the majors move into their third week.

Neither side has yet made a major move that would signal the start of the give-and-take bargaining that would break the logjam and result in a new feature-primetime deal this week. But some cautious optimism persists that SAG and the AMPTP can still reach an agreement over the next few sessions.

The key problem that’s emerged is that negotiators have been devoting nearly all their time to slowly hammering out terms in new media — covering such areas as residual rates for ad-supported streaming, the length of promotional windows under which shows can be streamed without paying residuals and the rate paid for downloads.

But that’s meant there’s been virtually no discussion about SAG’s proposals for a boost in DVD residuals – a non-starter for the AMPTP – along with the guild’s demand for increased pay rates for middle-income actors. Resolving those demands to SAG’s satisfaction may take more than just this week.

Following a weekend recess, talks resumed at mid-day Monday at the headquarters of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers in Encino with no official word as to specifics.

Negotiations will resume at 9 a.m. today. The current round of talks, extended last week for an extra week, is scheduled to continue through Friday with rival performers union AFTRA set to begin its primetime talks Monday.

Despite mostly negative evaluations so far along with the complexity of issues facing negotiators, observers still believe it’s possible that an acceptable deal can emerge soon. Key factor driving such hopes stems from both sides staying cordial and refraining from attacks on each other’s positions, representing a vivid contrast with the conduct of the WGA and AMPTP before and during the writers strike.

Both sides appear to have concluded that resorting to insulting language — such as calling each other liars, as was done repeatedly during the writers strike — served little purpose during the WGA negotiations other than inflaming an already volatile situation.

SAG’s current deal expires June 30. The guild hasn’t taken a strike authorization vote among its 120,000 members.

The majors have told SAG that it should not expect a deal that’s significantly better than the pacts signed earlier this year by the Directors Guild of America and Writers Guild of America. That was also message conveyed to thesps by News Corp. topper Peter Chernin and Disney CEO Robert Iger — who teamed in hammering out the outlines of the DGA and WGA agreements.

Still, SAG may decide to hold off on making a deal this week with the aim of getting better terms when it’s closer to the June 30 expiration.

Such a strategy runs the risk of AFTRA signing a deal next week and using it to sign new shows shot on digital – an area of jurisdiction that SAG and AFTRA haven’t yet sorted out – and potentially decreasing SAG’s leverage when it returns to the negotiating table.

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