By Omar Younis and Lisa Richwine
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Striking Hollywood actors vowed to hold firm on Thursday in their push for higher compensation and other gains as studios rejected a union demand for a bonus tied to the number of streaming TV subscribers.
Negotiators for Walt Disney, Netflix and other media companies said late Wednesday they were suspending talks after reviewing the latest offer from the SAG-AFTRA actors union. The move dashed hopes of a quick resolution after a deal with film and television writers.
At picket lines on Thursday, actors said they were disappointed that talks had collapsed but would continue pushing for pay increases, protections around artificial intelligence and other workplace improvements.
“This is the part of the movie where the hero gets knocked down and you think they’re out,” Jason George, a member of the SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee, said outside Netflix. “And this is the part where you double down and you come back and win the day.”
Members of SAG-AFTRA, which represents 160,000 actors and other media professionals, have been on strike against film and TV studios since July. The union resumed negotiations with the studios last week after the Writers Guild of America (WGA) ended its own five-month work stoppage.
The two sides are at odds over actors’ desire to benefit from the success of shows and movies on streaming services, such as the residuals that actors received during decades of broadcast television and reruns. SAG-AFTRA had initially asked that cast members receive a share of streaming revenue but changed the proposal to a per-subscriber bonus.
Netflix Co-Chief Executive Ted Sarandos, who had joined the talks along with other media CEOs, said SAG-AFTRA had floated the per-subscriber “levy” for the first time on Wednesday night.
“We just felt it was a bridge too far,” Sarandos said at the Bloomberg Screentime conference on Thursday.
The Alliance for Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which negotiates on behalf of Netflix and other studios, said the bonus would cost $800 million per year and be financially “untenable.”
SAG-AFTRA countered that the studios had inflated the cost of their proposal. Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said the cost would amount to roughly $500 million, and the union felt it was offering a concession that was closer to what the studios wanted.
“I really hope that maybe this was just one of those blips” in negotiations, Crabtree-Ireland said. “I really hope that calmer heads prevail amongst the CEO group and that we’re back in bargaining with them as soon as possible.”
Actor Michelle Boyd said she was still optimistic that a deal would be reached and was buoyed by the crowd that turned out to picket on Thursday.
“It was such a good turnout today, and I think it’s really good to show the studios that we’re not going away and we’re not going to quit,” she said.
The two sides also are battling over the use of artificial intelligence on screen. Actors fear they will be replaced by digital replicas. The studios said they offered a guarantee that would not be done without consent and compensation.
“We just want protection so they can’t use our face in perpetuity, and continue to make money off my face in perpetuity, without ever having to pay me again,” said actor David Stanbra.
(Reporting by Omar Younis, Lisa Richwine and Dawn Chmielewski in Los Angeles; Editing by Mary Milliken and Gerry Doyle)