SAG-Aftra Plaza

SAG-Aftra Plaza

SAG-AFTRA for years negotiated a single all-encompassing deal with major film studios and television networks, which dictated the terms of employment for the union’s approximately 160,000 members.

But the rise of streaming giant Netflix Inc., which reached a separate deal with the union this month, has changed that. Analysts say the union’s change in protocol may have weakened Hollywood’s top studios.

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists announced July 20 that it had reached a deal on a three-year contract with Los Gatos-headquartered Netflix.

The deal provides the same acting rates for most guild members that were outlined in an existing pact between the actors union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which includes legacy Hollywood studios and the entertainment industry’s largest U.S. TV networks.

But it expands the slate of actors covered under the contract, adding performers whose images are used in computer-generated “performance capture” technology to create special effects characters. Netflix also agreed to include voice actors who dub movies and shows into other languages as employees under the contract.

Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said in a statement that the company was pleased it could work with SAG-AFTRA to address issues “unique to Netflix’s production needs.”

The legacy movie studios and television networks that form the AMPTP may be less sanguine.

“I am certain the legacy media companies are not that happy with this development,” said Jason Squire, a professor at the USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. “This takes away their strengths in numbers and solidarity.”

Just as a union would be weakened by several of its members defecting, Squire argued, the studio alliance is hurt by the loss of its fastest-growing company – Netflix had earlier taken part in SAG-AFTRA negotiations collectively with the other members of AMPTP.

The studio alliance declined comment.

Ray Rodriguez, SAG-AFTRA’s chief contracts negotiator, told the Business Journal that Netflix’s individual negotiation with the union was “strategically a smart move for us that helps diversify our risk.”

SAG-AFTRA is in the beginning stages of negotiating a new contract with the studio alliance, with the current contract set to expire in June 2020.

Membership hasn’t yet decided whether to use the Netflix contract as a springboard for what the union hopes to see in the broader contract, Rodriguez said. He downplayed the importance of the Netflix deal in informing other companies’ agreements with SAG-AFTRA. Rodriguez said Amazon.com Inc.’s Amazon Prime is still part of the alliance, as is Hulu, which is majority-owned by the alliance’s biggest member by annual revenue, Walt Disney Co.

Media and entertainment reporter Matthew Blake can be reached at (323) 556-8332 or mblake@labusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @mattpennyblake.

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