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SAG seeks cable parity

The biggest question in Hollywood following the resolution of the six-month Screen Actors Guild strike against advertisers is: What happens next year?

SAG President Bill Daniels says, now that the ad strike is over, his attention can be focused on getting SAG and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) members new pacts with the Hollywood studios and networks.

The three-year contracts for both guilds, which comprise a total of 140,000 members, with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers are up June 30. Network and studio executives have begun bracing for the worst (see story, page 20).

The issues are similar. In the advertiser strike, the guilds received increased cable payments, Internet jurisdiction for actors and continued residual payments for network television.

Actors' flat-fee pay for cable commercials will now go from $1,014 per ad to $2,460 per spot in 2004. SAG and AFTRA executives did give in on residual payments on cable commercials, though. Actors wanted per-play payments for every ad on cable but pulled that demand off the table late in the negotiations.

In the next set of talks, actors and writers want a bigger piece of the cable pie in terms of syndication residuals and also better pay for actors in first-run cable series.

Cable executives expect demands from the guilds for parity with the broadcast networks but say that's going to be tough. Most cable channels that employ SAG or Writers Guild of America talent currently buy out residual contracts or pay 50% or 60% of the going broadcast rates.

"Residuals are not economically feasible," says one top cable head. "Shows are often repeated many times on cable compared to the networks, and that could get really expensive. Buyouts are probably the only way to go."

SAG's Daniels says something is going to have to give there and also with international TV residuals. SAG and AFTRA, he adds, want to start informal negotiations with producers and studio heads within the next month.

"We are not going to be unreasonable," he says. However, "there has been an explosion in cable and in foreign television. I think the industry realizes it has to make those adjustments."

But it's the 11,000 members of the Writers Guild of America who are set to walk out first, if their demands are not met. The WGA's contract comes up May 1, and members voted overwhelmingly last week on demands and also to use traditional negotiating methods with the studios. Instead of using fast-track methods to negotiate, as the WGA has for its last three contracts, the writers voted to use the slower, drawn-out methods last put to use in 1988, when the WGA went on strike for five months.