SAG-AFTRA and the ad industry are aiming to begin negotiations early next year on a successor to the current contract, which generates about $1 billion a year in covered earnings.

The talks will mark the first major national contract to be negotiated by SAG-AFTRA, created in March from the merger of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Douglas Wood, chief negotiator for the industry, told Variety that the talks will likely start in late January or early February but that no hard dates have been set.

SAG-AFTRA began the official process of formulating proposals earlier this month via “wages and working conditions” meetings — during which members submit proposals — with more of the confabs taking place in October.

The unions and the ad industry are operating under a contract that expires March 31. SAG and AFTRA negotiated a three-year deal in 2009, then sought and received a one-year extension in 2011 in order to focus their efforts on merging the unions.

Key gains in the current commercials contract included a payment structure for work made for and moved over to the Internet and other new-media platforms and maintaining the method of pay-per-play payment for ads run on networks (aka the “Class A” payment structure). The contract also calls for the unions and producers to commission a two-year pilot study by a consultant to test a revamp of compensation based on ratings rather than the current pay-per-play model. The negotiations had originally been set to start in October but SAG-AFTRA agreed with the ad industry this summer to delay the start so the industry could address some of the “data challenges” from the test of the revamped compensation model.