Ad industry touts progress in talks

Douglas Wood downplays union reports

HOLLYWOOD — The ad industry’s trying to deflate the possibility of a SAG-AFTRA commercials strike, insisting that progress is being achieved during the third week of talks.

Douglas Wood, the industry’s chief negotiator, attempted Thursday to downplay reports that the negotiations are in trouble. Earlier in the week, a draft letter for a strike authorization from SAG and AFTRA had emerged, prompting the unions to characterize the document as a “contingency.”

Both sides in the talks have agreed to a news blackout about the substance of the talks. Wood, in a statement posted on an ad industry website, said that he’s not violating the press embargo by addressing concerns of those in the industry who are being “misled” by reports claiming the negotiations are going poorly. 

“As I have stated, such reports are simply untrue,” he said. “While both sides are addressing serious issues, the parties at the bargaining table continue to work together to find common ground.”

The prospect of a strike authorization vote raises the potential of a repeat of the bitter six-month strike that SAG and AFTRA staged over a commercials contract nine years ago. The current contract expires March 31.

Key points at the current talks include the industry’s proposal for a revamp to the compensation model based on gross rating points rather than the traditional pay-per-play method and the industry’s proposed reductions of more than $20 million annually in contributions to pension and health plans. The initial proposal from advertisers called for thesps to receive about $900 million in annual pay but with allocations shifted to reflect changes in viewing patterns.

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