Hollywood actors, studios halt negotiations

What’s been a three-month work stoppage continues as negotiations between studios and the SAG-AFTRA union representing striking Hollywood actors were suspended this week after the sides apparently hit an impasse over issues, including related to streaming revenue and artificial intelligence.

Talks between SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP, which represents major studios and streamers including Netflix, Disney, and others, broke down after they had resumed October 2. Renewed negotiations followed the end of a dual months-long Hollywood writers strike as studios and the WGA union reached an agreement  –  giving hope for reaching a deal with actors and ending a work stoppage that brought much Hollywood TV and film production to a halt. SAG-AFTRA-represented actors have been on strike since July, previously joining writers who began striking in May.

However, it appears the two sides continue to clash. On Wednesday the AMPTP released a statement after the union presented its most recent proposal.

“After meaningful conversations, it is clear that the gap between the AMPTP and SAG-AFTRA is too great, and conversations are no longer moving us in a productive direction,” the AMPTP said in a statement.

In a letter to members Thursday, SAG-AFTRA said industry CEOs had walked away from the bargaining table, refusing to counter the latest offer.  According to the union it negotiated in good faith, “despite the fact that last week they presented an offer that was, shockingly, worth less than they proposed before the strike began.”

In the statement from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, studios said SAG-AFTRA put forth an offer that included a viewership bonus, which the organization claims by itself would cost more than $800 million per year and “create an untenable economic burden.”

The union for its part, said that AMPTP used “bully tactics” and accused studios of intentionally misrepresenting to the press the cost of the proposal, claiming AMPTP was “overstating it by 60%.”  SAG-AFTRA contends it transformed its revenue share proposal, which the union said would cost the companies less than 57 cents per subscriber per year.

In an appearance at a Bloomberg conference Thursday Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said talks fell apart because the actors union proposed an additional “levy” on every streaming subscriber, according to the The Hollywood Reporter. The report cited Sarandos as saying studios offered SAG-AFTRA a “success-based bonus” – similar to what writers secured in their agreement, but costing the studios four-to-five times more, which was rejected by the actors union.

“A levy on top of our revenue or per subscriber, with no insight into the revenue per subscriber or anything, that just felt like a bridge too far to add this deep into the negotiation,” Sarandos said, according to the report.

As with the WGA-AMPTP negotiations, the use of and protections around artificial intelligence appear to be another key issue in talks (although different concerns for actors). In its letter to members, SAG-AFTRA said studios claim to protect performer consent for AI but are “continuing to demand ‘consent’ on the first day of employment for use of a performer’s digital replica for an entire cinematic universe (or any franchise project).”

In terms of common issues, including general wage increases, SVOD streaming residuals and viewership bonuses, the AMPTP said it offered the same terms that were ratified by members of the Directors Guild of America and WGA – which SAG-AFTRA rejected.

The WGA reached an agreement with studios in late September, ending a Hollywood writers strike that began May 2.

“We hope that SAG-AFTRA will reconsider and return to productive negotiations soon,” the AMPTP stated.