Guilds gird for battle over advertising future

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Actors, writers and other behind-the-scenes talent have seen the future of advertising, and they want their share.

With a keen awareness of marketing's radically changing landscape, new leaders with get-tough attitudes have swept into power at Hollywood's creative unions in recent days, set on carving out a bigger piece of the financial pie for their members. They contend that talent isn't being paid fairly for advertising work that's spreading beyond the outmoded 30-second spot to an increasing number of media platforms from cellphones to video games and the Internet. And they are concerned that the creative community is being left out of discussions on the growing and potentially lucrative area of brand integration.

The Hollywood unions' aggressive new stance differs significantly from the conciliatory tone of the previous regimes at the Writer's Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild. The last time like-minded leaders were in place, SAG staged a six-month strike in 2000 against the ad industry.

WGA West, in fact, last week staged a protest outside Advertising Age's Madison & Vine East conference, complaining about an abundance of brands in shows like "The Apprentice" and "Survivor." David Young, the newly-named executive director of WGA West, said the creative community understands that TV is a commercial medium but wants its members represented in talks about brand integration. Having producers speak on behalf of writers isn't good enough. "We know advertising pays the bills," Mr. Young said, "but if the discussion includes the advertisers, the networks and the producers, but not the writers, we have a problem with that."

The WGA polled 400 members recently with 73% saying they found product integration to be "not too acceptable" or "not at all acceptable." About the same number said that "the line between content and advertising needs to be more firmly drawn." The guild is concerned about what it calls runaway growth of product integration into reality TV series.

"We know there's a shifting model," Mr. Young said. "We're just saying we must have a place at the table to discuss how it will work. Without us, it can't happen at all." The WGA West is considering creating a voluntary code of conduct on how brands would be integrated into entertainment, with input from marketers, producers, networks and others involved, he said.

Another major union concern is the fractured media landscape and marketers' quest for new ways to reach consumers. Involved are a number of different platforms that did not exist when commercial guidelines were set in the 1950s.

Negotiations are likely to begin by next spring on SAG's commercial contract with the ad industry, which expires at the end of 2006. Executives familiar with the matter said the old guidelines could be scrapped for some that take the new technologies and distribution platforms into account. It's unlikely, these executives said, that advertisers would agree to pay the creative community for each channel of distribution.

Hot button

"It would be totally cost prohibitive," said one of the executives. "Advertisers would consider it economically unpalatable. We'll need a whole new compensation model."

It's a hot-button issue for the unions. The new leadership includes Alan Rosenberg, who was named president of SAG last week with 40% of the vote. The election saw about a 27.3% turnout. At WGA West, Patric Verrone was elected president recently, having campaigned on the need to be tougher in negotiations with studios, networks and producers. He's also trying to boost the guild's numbers by bringing in reality TV writers and editors and animation workers. The WGA East also has a new president, Chris Albers, who ran on a similar platform.

"Our members feel we have to stand up and fight in a more aggressive way," Mr. Young said.

A voice

WGA West wants representation in talks about brand integration

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