Hollywood Actors, Studios Reach Labor Agreement Ending 118-Day Strike

SAG-AFTRA, the union representing working actors in Hollywood, and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the trade group representing the studios and Netflix, among others, have reached a tentative agreement ending the longest labor strike in Hollywood history.

“As of 12:01 am on Nov. 9, our strike is officially suspended and all picket locations are closed,” SAG-AFTRA said in a statement. The agreement must must be ratified by SAG-AFTRA members on Friday, Nov. 10.

The new three-year deal is valued at more than $1 billion dollars, and includes “above-pattern” minimum compensation increases, provisions for consent and compensation from the threat of artificial intelligence (AI), and for the first time establishes a streaming participation bonus.

“Our “pension & health caps” have been substantially raised, which will bring much needed value to our plans,” the union wrote. “In addition, the deal includes numerous improvements for multiple categories, including outsize compensation increases for background performers, and critical contract provisions protecting diverse communities.”

The long ordeal, which reportedly idled about $10 billion in TV and film production, had pitted myriad industry representatives on both sides of the issue against each other, including chief union negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, and AMPTP president Carol Lombardini, Disney CEO Bob Iger, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos, NBCUniversal chairperson Donna Langley, and Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav.

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Both Sides Optimistic as Hollywood Strike Settlement Negotiations Resume Oct. 24

NEWS ANALYSIS — When negotiations between the union representing working actors (SAG-AFTRA) and AMPTP, the trade group representing studios and streaming companies, abruptly shut down Oct. 11 after actors made last-minute demands for a cut in streaming revenue, a return to the bargaining table seemed for off.

But over the weekend, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos went public lauding the Oct. 24 resumption of negotiations to end the 100+ day strike, leading to speculation a deal is forthcoming. Sarandos was the prominent industry voice when negotiations broke down earlier this month, arguing the actors’ demand for a $1 levy on every streaming subscriber amounted to an economic “bridge too far” in the negotiations.

For the actors, who have been on strike since July seeking higher compensation in the streaming ecosystem, in addition to safeguards against the use of artificial intelligence (AI), Tuesday’s unexpected return to the bargaining table is a positive.

“As we mark the 100th day of our strike, we are pleased to confirm the company executives have asked us to return to the table,” SAG-AFTRA said in an Oct. 21 statement.

A surprising turn of events, indeed, after the AMPTP on Oct. 11 said it was “clear that the gap between the AMPTP and SAG-AFTRA is too great,” and that the negotiations were no longer moving in a “productive direction”.

In a statement at the time, AMPTP outlined studios and streamers’ offers to the actors, including safeguards against improper AI use, and what the subscriber levy would cost.

“SAG-AFTRA’s current offer included what it characterized as a viewership bonus that, by itself, would cost more than $800 million per year – which would create an untenable economic burden,” AMPTP said in a statement.

Apparently, that economic burden is no longer untenable — to discuss.

Hollywood Writers, Studios Reach Tentative Labor Agreement to End 146-Day Strike

The Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers — the group representing Hollywood studios and streamers such as Netflix — late Sunday reached a tentative labor agreement, paving the way to end a work stoppage that has dragged on for more than 146 days.

“We have reached a tentative agreement on a new 2023 MBA, which is to say an agreement in principle on all deal points, subject to drafting final contract language,” the WGA said in a statement to members. 

Details of the agreement, which must be approved by WGA members, have not been disclosed — but mirror many of the same issues SAG-AFTRA, the union representing working actors, went on strike for on July 14. Issues include the use of artificial intelligence (AI) on productions, compensation, employment structure on episodic programming. The SAG-AFTRA strike is still ongoing.

If the tentative labor deal with writers is approved, the WGA board and council would also vote on whether to lift the restraining order and end the strike at a certain date and time (to be determined) pending ratification.

This would allow writers to return to work during the ratification vote, but would not affect the membership’s right to make a final determination on contract approval.

“What we have won in this contract — most particularly, everything we have gained since May 2 — is due to the willingness of this membership to exercise its power, to demonstrate its solidarity, to walk side-by-side, to endure the pain and uncertainty,” the Guild wrote. “It is the leverage generated by your strike, in concert with the extraordinary support of our union siblings, that finally brought the companies back to the table to make a deal.”

Indeed, the tentative agreement was hammered out in marathon negotiations since Thursday when the WGA and leaders of AMPTP, which include Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos and Disney CEO Bob Iger, met in person to reach a deal. The AMPTP had reportedly offered its “best and final” offer to WGA on Saturday.

Without an agreement, the WGA strike, together with the actors’ picket line, was expected to continue through the end of the year. The work stoppage has effectively shuttered most content production across television and motion pictures in the U.S. and abroad.

Actors Reportedly Walked Away From $1 Billion Hike in Pre-Strike Compensation, Benefits Offer

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the negotiating entity representing the Hollywood studios and streamers, including Netflix, reportedly offered SAG-AFTRA, the union representing about 160,000 working actors, more than $1 billion in increased financial compensation and benefits before the strike call last Thursday, July 13.

“The deal that SAG-AFTRA walked away from on July 12 is worth more than $1 billion in wage increases, pension and health contributions and residual increases and includes first-of-their-kind protections over its three-year term, including expressly with respect to AI [artificial intelligence],” read an AMPTP  statement, according to Reuters, which first reported the offer, citing information from AMPTP.

SAG-AFTRA, which reportedly is calling the statement a mischaracterization of the pre-strike negotiations, is seeking  greater compensation for streaming video distribution, among other issues.

The Directors Guild of America (DGA) in June inked a new labor deal with AMPTP that featured a 21% hike in streaming residuals that includes content streaming access to foreign subscribers across Netflix, Disney+ and other major platforms.

SAG-AFTRA is also seeking greater control of actors’ AI images as the technology’s use increases with content production.

Studios already use Generative Artificial Intelligence (GAI) when making actors appear younger or older, or creating realistic images, voiceovers and communication.

For example, in the new three-part Showtime documentary Goliath on the late NBA star Wilt Chamberlain, GAI is used to recreate Chamberlain’s voice-overs from media statements he made.

The technology and practice is increasingly being used by content producers for actors in other situations — an emerging business practice SAG-AFTRA wants to stay on top of.

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The DGA labor deal with AMPTP expressly addressed safeguards for directors regarding GAI.

Specifically, the agreement outlines that “duties performed by DGA members must be assigned to a person, and GAI does not constitute a person.”

Content creators/producers are not allowed to use GAI in connection with “creative elements” without consultation with the director or other DGA-covered employees. The labor contract also calls for twice-yearly meetings with the studios to discuss and negotiate the use of GAI.

Actors Set to Join Writers in Strike Against Studios, Streamers

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), the union representing about 160,000 actors in Hollywood, is recommending its board call a strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), the entity that represents major studios and streamers, including Amazon Studios, Apple, Disney, NBCUniversal, Netflix, Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures and Warner Bros. Discovery, among others.

Following the expiration of the Producers-SAG-AFTRA TV/Theatrical/Streaming Contracts at 11:59 p.m. PT on July 12, the actors’ union alleges that after more than four weeks of bargaining, the studios have been unwilling to negotiate for higher compensation, better benefits and safeguards against the use of artificial intelligence (AI), among other issues.

While AMPTP has issued no press statement on the current labor situation, major studios and content producers have made no secret their desire to reign in operating costs — spearheaded by Disney’s recent decision to cut 7,000 jobs and $5 billion in costs. Public media companies, in fiscal reports, have pointed to a sluggish post-pandemic box office, burgeoning streaming losses and changes in the way people consume entertainment, for re-assessing their operating budgets.

On a July 13 appearance on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” (from the annual media mogul retreat in Sun Valley, Idaho) Disney CEO Bob Iger said both the writers and actors unions were being unrealistic in their contract demands.

“It’s very disturbing to me,” Iger told CNBC’s David Faber. “We’ve talked about disruptive forces on this business and all the challenges we’re facing, the recovery from COVID, which is ongoing, it’s not completely back. This is the worst time in the world to add to that disruption.”

While Iger agrees that the unions representing writers and actors should negotiate to the benefit of their members, he said the industry recently signed (on June 23) a “fair deal” with the Directors Guild of America that he contends valued their work appropriately. Iger would like to do the same with writers and actors — within fiscal reality.

“There’s a level of expectation that they have, that is just not realistic,” he said. “And they are adding to the set of the challenges that this business is already facing that is, quite frankly, very disruptive.”

A strike would be the first involving both writers (who went on strike two months ago) and actors in Hollywood since 1960.

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, chief negotiator for the actors, said the studios and streamers have implemented “massive” unilateral changes in the industry’s business model, while at the same time insisting on keeping compensation contracts unchanged.

“That’s not how you treat a valued, respected partner and essential contributor,” Crabtree-Ireland said in a statement.

He contends that the studios’ refusal to engage in the discussions regarding the actors’ key proposals and the “fundamental” disrespect they have shown towards working actors (not headline stars) prompts a strike.

“The studios and streamers have underestimated our members’ resolve, as they are about to fully discover,” said Crabtree-Ireland.

The union will hold a press conference today (July 13), at noon PT at SAG-AFTRA Plaza in Los Angeles, following the conclusion of the National Board vote.

Streaming Video at the Heart of New Hollywood Labor Agreement

Agreement over a new tentative three-year labor agreement over the weekend between the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) not only averted a planned Oct. 18 strike affecting 40,000 film and television workers across 13 unions, the pact underscored Hollywood’s obsession with streaming video and content.

“The Basic and Videotape Agreements” largely involved content production for movies and TV shows distributed via over-the-top video channels for Walt Disney Studios, Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, Apple, Netflix and Amazon Studios, among others.

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The rush to produce original streaming content has resulted in increased demands on behind-the-camera labor required to make it happen.

The proposed contract addresses core issues, including reasonable rest periods, meal breaks, a living wage for those on the bottom of the pay scale, and significant increases in compensation to be paid by new-media companies such as Netflix, Amazon, Apple and Roku, among others.

As content demands increased, production workers lamented that the average work week often ran into the weekend as Fridays and Saturdays became one long workday, or a “Fraturday.” Under the new agreement, film and television workers get retroactive 3% annual wage increases, and minimum of rest periods over the weekend, including 10 hours per 24-hour day.

“Our members will see significant improvements, but our employers also will benefit,” Mike Miller, VP and motion picture director for IATSE, said in a statement. “This settlement allows pre-production, production and post-production to continue without interruption. Workers should have improved morale and be more alert. Health and safety standards have been upgraded.”

Matthew Loeb, president of IATSE International, said the agreement should serve as a model for other workers in the entertainment and tech industries, and for so-called “gig workers.”

“We’re the original gig workers,” Loeb said.