SAG banning new media work in New Year


The Screen Actors Guild has notified members that, beginning January 1st, it will “vigorously” enforce “Rule One” that no SAG member can work for a producer who does not have a valid SAG agreement. The union claims that means no member can work on a project intended for the Internet, cell phones, PDAs or any other “new media” technology. Meanwhile, SAG’s leaders are trying to rally member support for a strike authorization vote to be conducted in January.

“When actors stick together, we all win,” SAG declared on its website. “Setting standards in new media will be challenging and can only be accomplished with member solidarity,” the union said.

New media has been the main sticking point in the stalled contract negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The studios have insisted that Internet and other new media outlets are still in their infancy and no one really knows how much revenue they’re going to generate and how soon. Just this week NBC Universal President and CEO Jeff Zucker told an investor conference that Internet video ad revenues have slowed dramatically in Q4 and won’t be the growth engine that had been hoped for 2009. AMPTP members have insisted that they will not give SAG better terms for new media projects than other unions got in their already completed contracts.

But SAG negotiators refuse to back down, despite a membership rebellion that added more moderate members to the national board. The union is holding educational meetings this month to try to convince members to vote yes on the strike authorization balloting to take place right after the holidays – with ballots going out January 2. The votes will be tabulated January 23rd. A 75% approval is required, which could be a high hurdle to clear.

AMPTP berated the union leadership for calling the strike authorization vote. “SAG members are going to be asked to bail out a failed negotiating strategy by going on strike during one of the worst economic crises in history. We hope that working actors will study our contract offer carefully and come to the conclusion that no strike can solve the problems that have been created by SAG’s own failed negotiation strategy,” the studio bargaining team said in a statement.

RBR/TVBR observation: That’s an interesting interpretation. Even though SAG has an expired, but still enforced contract with Studio X, the union claims it doesn’t have a contract with Studio X for new media because the studios have not agreed to the new contract language SAG is insisting on for a yet-to-be-agreed-on contract. That would be a tough case to make in court, but that probably doesn’t matter. Unlike most other Hollywood unions, SAG can easily spot any violations – actors can’t really do anything without their face and/or voice being obvious – and apply pressure to any SAG member who defies the ban on new media work.