Ad strike clock ticking

Work stoppage could result in $2 mil-a-day loss for thesps

Barring a miracle, Hollywood will experience its first major strike in more than a decade on Monday, when union actors walk out on advertisers.

Federal mediators failed Thursday to get the two sides to the table and no negotiations were scheduled. “It does not look like we’ll be going back to negotiate over this weekend,” said John McGuinn, chief negotiator for the advertisers.

McGuinn said representatives of the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service asked him if there would be any need for a weekend meeting with representatives of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists. In response, McGuinn said he did not believe a get-together would be necessary unless SAG and AFTRA were willing to change their positions, which include a demand for “pay per play” residuals for cable television ads and the creation of a payment system for Internet ads.

At an impasse

Leaders of the unions have insisted that the advertisers, represented by the American Assn. of Advertising Agencies and the Assn. of Advertising Agencies, need to change their positions. Negotiators have not met since April 14, when talks collapsed after six weeks of negotiations.

The strike by 135,000 unionists is set to begin at 12:01 a.m. EDT Monday. Only radio and TV commercials would be affected.

Leaders of the unions voted 150-0 last week to go on strike and have been adamant about the need for advertisers to share more of what they see as a windfall in cable revenues. But a key to the success of the strike will be the unions’ ability to persuade members to honor picket lines and nonmembers to give up acting jobs.

“We are getting good feedback frrom members that they understand the issues and are getting prepared to strike,” SAG spokesman Greg Krizman said.

Rallying the troops

The unions have planned rallies for Monday in Chicago, in Los Angeles next to the La Brea Tar Pits and in New York at Bryant Park. They have not yet revealed where they will picket.

McGuinn said advertisers are intent on continuing to generate new spots and predicted that the unions’ attempt to sign interim agreements — allowing use of SAG and AFTRA members according to the unions’ last offer — will fall flat. “If past history is any guide, there will be a handful of people on the fringes who sign interim agreements but it won’t be the big players,” he added.

Commercial producers have pledged to keep working by using nonunion talent and overseas locations and by shooting “lifestyle” spots without actors. “There will be a lot of turmoil for the first two weeks until we get a nonunion talent pool established,” one producer said.

One insider expects a definite slow-down. “Commercials are driven by account executives who want performance-driven spots, so they won’t take a chance on new actors,” he said. “They’ll just use the old (ads) for a while because they know that those work.”

Complicated issues

How long will the strike last? Predictions are mixed, but observers point out that unresolved issues, particularly with the Internet, are far more complicated than they were during the 18-day actors strike against advertisers in 1988.

That walkout preceded a five-month strike by the Writers Guild of America, which resulted in a delay in the start of the fall television season.

In the case of the upcoming strike, advertisers are likely to feel pressure from two sides to return to the table — from executives needing new spots and from the unions within major advertisers. For SAG and AFTRA’s leaders, the pressure will come from having to explain to actors why they need to give up approximately $2 million of commercial work each day.

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