October 2, 2023

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Hollywood studios are racing to avert the midnight strike

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Hollywood’s major film and television studios and the union representing 160,000 actors engaged in final talks on Wednesday before a midnight deadline to try to avert a second strike by entertainment workers.

SAG-AFTRA, Hollywood’s largest union, is demanding higher payouts in the era of broadcast television as well as guarantees about the use of artificial intelligence (AI). Members have allowed strikes if negotiators can’t reach an agreement, and A-list stars including Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep have said they’re ready to walk away from the job.

They will join about 11,500 members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA), who went on strike in early May. This strike sent late-night TV talk shows into endless reruns and disrupted most of the production for the fall TV season and the shooting of some big-budget movies.

The SAG-AFTRA strike would force more groups to shut down and pile pressure on studios to find a solution.

“Everyone is nervous and hoping the answer is the right answer,” said actress Florence Pugh, speaking in London at a promotional event for the upcoming movie “Oppenheimer.”

Late Tuesday, SAG-AFTRA negotiators approved a studio’s request to call a federal mediator. But the union said studio representatives had “abused our trust” with leaks to the media and would not budge on the Wednesday night deadline.

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Hollywood hasn’t faced a double strike since 1960, when members of the WGA and the Screen Actors Guild called it quits in a fight over leftover films sold to television networks.

“You have to make $26,000 a year to qualify for your health insurance, and there are a lot of people who cross that limit with their remaining payments,” actor Matt Damon said at the Oppenheimer event.

“There is money being made and it needs to be allocated in a way that cares about marginalized people.”

Today, unions are fighting Netflix (NFLX.O), Walt Disney (DIS.N), and other companies over base salary and tailings from streaming services and other issues including the use of generative AI. Actors want assurances that their digital images will not be used without their permission.

The negotiations were taking place at a difficult time for media companies that have spent billions of dollars on programming trying to attract new streaming customers.

Disney, Comcast Corp. (CMCSA.O), NBCUniversal, and Paramount Global (PARA.O) all lost hundreds of millions of dollars from broadcasting last quarter. At the same time, the advent of online video has eroded television advertising revenue as traditional television audiences shrink.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which negotiates on behalf of the studios, declined to comment on its talks with SAG-AFTRA.

With the book, AMPTP said it offered “generous” pay increases but could not agree to all of the book’s demands. The studios and the WGA have not held talks since the writers’ strike began on May 2.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwin) Additional reporting by Marie-Louise in London. Edited by Bill Berkrot

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