SAG talks not likely to strike up a deal

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Industry executives are less than hopeful that this week's talks in New York will bring an end to the more than 4-month-old commercial actors strike.

Federal mediators arranged a Sept. 13 meeting between advertiser representatives and the unions -- the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists -- which went on strike May 1.

In spite of it all, advertisers have not gone wanting for TV commercials. Last week, the Joint Policy Committee on talent relations for the Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies released figures showing the industry produced 16% more commercials in August (2,010) than July (1,725). According to the JPC, since the strike began advertisers have been at 80% production capacity compared with last year.

As a result, some advertising executives expect the strike could drag into the winter months, and perhaps even next year.

Before the strike began, many advertisers rushed to produce and stockpile commercials. Under SAG/AFTRA talent rules, advertisers have 21 months from the date of production to use those spots before they must re-negotiate payment with talent.


Regarding this week's talks, Greg Krizman, managing director of communications for SAG, said, "We'll come back with modifications, just like we made in July [during a previous meeting]. But [advertisers] have offered no modifications since their last offer in April."

However, John McGuinn, chief negotiator for the Joint Policy Committee, said the July gesture was not a true modification. The unions, he said, merely distanced themselves further from advertisers by asking that all cable networks be included in its pay-for-play proposal -- where talent would get paid each time a commercial airs.

Originally, the unions sought pay-for-play only from the bigger cable networks, Mr. McGuinn said. Advertising executives say pay-per-play for the cable networks could result in talent fee increases of 300% to 400%. Pay-per-play already exists on the broadcast networks. Advertisers want to change the system by offering one payment to talent for all commercial work.


Ron Morgan, co-chairman of the SAG/AFTRA Strike Strategy Committee, confirmed the union wants pay-for-play for smaller cable networks with fewer than 14 million subscribers. But, he added, the pay structure would result in a better formula for advertisers. "We would be saving them money," he said.

Unlike previous talks, this week's meeting is scheduled for just one day and only with small groups from each side.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," Mr. McGuinn said. Why? "It's a triumph of hope over experience."

The talks could be extended, said Mr. McGuinn. Mr. Krizman said the union is preparing to send 26 executives to another meeting, one tentatively scheduled for September 18 in New York.

Advertisers don't seem ready to move too quickly, according to union officials. They say, for instance, this week's meeting could have been scheduled sooner.

Meanwhile, more talent -- especially athletes -- is bucking the unions.


After refusing to do commercials for many months during the strike, Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong produced a spot for Nike in Hungary, which will break Sept. 16 on NBC during the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

Previously, athletes such as golfer Tiger Woods; football players Kurt Warner, Terrell Davis and Keyshawn Johnson; and Olympians Michael Johnson and Marion Jones all broke with the unions to produce commercials.

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