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Actors seek new scale for new media

Artists and advertisers renegotiate payment rules for the age of streaming video and mobile devices.

As advertisers shift their television focus to include more Internet and mobile forms of video advertising, what's an actor worth?

That's exactly what actors and advertisers are trying to determine.

The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) have been negotiating with the advertising industry's ANA/AAAA Joint Policy Committee on Broadcast Talent Union Relations (JPC) to extend its Commercials Contracts collective bargaining agreement--the rules that govern compensation for artists appearing in TV and radio commercials--to the Internet.

On Friday, AFTRA and SAG announced in a joint statement that an agreement has been reached, though it has not yet ratified by the unions' boards. The new deal will cover commercial contracts through Oct. 29, 2008.

As part of the deal, AFTA, SAG and the JPC have formed a "New Media Committee" to look for a new system of compensating actors for commercials, given the changes in media technology. The committee's recommendations will then factor into the next collective bargain agreement between AFTRA/SAG (the two unions have jointly negotiated with advertisers since the 1960s) and the JPC.

From the actors' standpoint, additional royalties of some sort should be paid for commercials streamed over the Internet or on mobile devices, in much the same way actors receive a fee each time a commercial is aired.

Advertisers, on the other hand, may be quick to point out that the nature of downloadable content has changed the way ads are viewed. A single showing is often only seen by a single viewer, in contrast to the many viewers who watch a single airing of a television ad. While new systems of gauging TV viewers have surfaced, advertisers have become skeptical of commercial ratings since DVRs made skipping TV ads commonplace in many households.

For these reasons, both actors and advertisers are seeking a new system of metrics for royalties when it comes to commercials shown over the Internet or mobile devices. This new paradigm for actor pay will be the topic of discussion during future negotiations, according to the AFTRA/SAG statement.

In the meantime, if the current proposal is ratified, actors will receive a 6 percent gain in pay and a half-a-percent increase in union pension and health plan contributions. Advertisers, in turn, have been granted more "flexibility" when editing commercials for the Internet or other new media.