For the second time since the break off in talks with the Producers, the Screen Actors Guild has signaled that it is not willing to go to the wall on DVD residuals but instead wants to improve on the terms covering new media offered by the Producers.
Tonight SAG’s national board made public that it had passed a unanimous resolution indicating their top priority in the current stalled contract negotiations was union jurisdiction and residuals for new media. There was no mention of DVD residuals in the resolution or in media reports about the meeting.
The resolution echoed the language of an email to members from their chief negotiator, National Executive Director Doug Allen, which also discussed new media concerns but made no mention of DVD residuals.
The political faction that controls SAG, Membership First, has for many years made a change in the DVD residual formula a top priority. Their strategic approach during this year’s round of negotiations was an attempt to weaken the alleged influence of their sister union, AFTRA, with whom they share 44,000 members, on bargaining. MF leaders argued that AFTRA had not been willing to take on the Producers on the issue in the past.
DVD sales generate $24 billion in annual sales revenue for the entertainment industry while new media currently generates approximately $250 million. It appears the leverage that the SAG “go it alone” strategy generated was not strong enough to force the Producers to move on the DVD issue. Initially, SAG had demanded a doubling of the residual rate for DVDs but soon dropped that to a 15% increase to be paid into the pension and health care fund for actors when it ran into stiff resistance from the AMPTP which had already blocked efforts by the three other talent guilds to make any headway on the issue.
SAG is now falling back to the much smaller new media revenue pool as it looks for a way out of the current stalemate with the Producers. This represents a significant defeat for the Membership First faction but probably represents the only reasonable way to get a union contract in place given the limited options now available to the Guild.
The defeat on such a key issue to the faction is likely to play into the upcoming union elections where a new opposition group, Unite For Strength, has emerged arguing that the union’s strategy and leadership needs to change in order to confront the current entertainment industry environment.