SAG reverses course…

All the trades are reporting today that SAG has reversed course in the wake of the AFTRA breakaway from Phase One joint negotiations.  For many months, SAG had indicated that its strategy was to slow down negotiations – waiting until the last possible moment to begin talks in order to use the June 30 contract expiration date as an incentive for the Producers to be more compliant in contract talks.  

Of course, there was never any evidence that such an approach had a chance – in fact, the WGA tried the same approach when it said no to a Producers’ proposal of early talks last year.  The result was that delay allowed the Producers time to bring the DGA into early talks while pushing the WGA out on the picket lines.  With AFTRA threatening to play the same kind of role as the DGA, SAG leaders realized they had better forget about any gamesmanship and try to lock down a deal before AFTRA.  So talks are set to start April 15.

Interestingly, however, as of today neither the AMPTP nor AFTRA has said anything about when they intend to begin talks. Hopefully, someone at the AFL-CIO is attempting to heal the breach that has opened up between the two unions who, after all, are as tightly connected as Siamese twins.

Unfortunately the level of rhetoric emanating from the SAG side is not encouraging. The otherwise moderate, even soft spoken moderator of the valuable SAG Actor Bulletin Board, Brian Hamilton, had this to say about recent events:
“NO CHANCE
‘… appears to be no chance that AFTRA will begin its talks by the time SAG starts its negotiations April 15.’
and we will still get the Soaps — starting with Bold and the Beautiful.
Let the decimation of the lying poaching scumbag union known as AFTRA begin. Bring it on, mutha-fukkaz!”

Not the kind of tone that is conducive to resolution of deep seated differences between unions.

What remains undiscussed is what IS the strategy that can break into the windfall profits the industry earns in what even Wall Street calls an “admittedly unfair” split of DVD revenues. Those revenues are likely to continue making up the lion’s share of earnings for the studios for some years to come now that Blu Ray is coming on line. A rush to early negotiations suggests that the strike card is now off the table – and that threat appeared to be the only card Guild leaders felt they could play.

My guess for this year’s round? Now that the SAG approach has collapsed, expect modest – but not unimportant – gains in new media and digital downloads in a formula that looks pretty much like that won by the WGA. Given the potential downside of the split with AFTRA that would have to be counted as a victory for the Guild at this point. But as soon as the ink is dry on the contract – perhaps as early as the end of April – it’s time for some serious internal debate about the future of the Guild and its sister unions in the industry. Joint strategic planning is critical for future growth and success. For one approach that I suggested to the Guild a couple years back you can read a memo posted on SAG Watch.

Actors to Begin Contract Talks