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Actors union cave in to studios over Internet broadcast rights

The Screen Actors Guild has given up its yearlong fight for better compensation from Internet broadcasting and reached a tentative deal with Hollywood studios for working on movies and prime-time TV shows.

The Guild's leaders said it would recommend the board and members approve the deal, possibly by next month. The contract would replace one that expired in June.

The new deal follows the same Internet provisions agreed to by writers, directors and another actors union and will expire on June 30, 2011, according to people who spoke on condition of anonymity because the details were not supposed to be disclosed before the Guild's board reviews it this weekend.

The date means SAG's contract will expire about the same time as other theatrical unions, maintaining the threat of a future joint strike. That expiry date had been one of the final points of contention.

But in allowing the contract to lapse for nearly a year, SAG actors lost wage increases of nearly US$70 million so far, according to the studios.

Before the stalemate, the studios had offered a 3.5 percent increase on minimum pay in the first year. Now actors will only get pay raises from when the deal is ratified - 3 percent over the next year and 3.5 percent until June 30, 2011, one of the people said.

Industry experts say the Guild is worse off than where it began. "Their endless stalemate really amounted to them pouring sugar in their own gas tank," said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment lawyer who has followed the talks closely. "The SAG hard-liners have inflicted serious damage on their own union." Fierce infighting and a stalemate with the studios pushed talks past the June 30, 2008, expiry date, and since then the US economy has nosedived, weakening actors' resolve for a strike and hardening the studios' unwillingness to bargain as DVD sales plummeted.

Work for actors stagnated as movie production slowed, reality TV show production grew and network programmers looked to replace scripted dramas with talk shows. Also more than 90 percent of TV pilots have gone to SAG's more acquiescent cousin, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

AFTRA, with 70,000 members compared with SAG's 120,000, ratified its own prime-time TV deal with the studios last July after it broke off joint talks with SAG for the first time in 30 years.


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