Thursday, December 11, 2008

Exclusive: SAG-AFTRA New Media Battle?

When (if?) SAG eventually does a deal with the studios, will SAG and its smaller rival, AFTRA, peacefully share jurisdiction in new media? Answer: probably not. Although no one else has publicly raised this issue to my knowledge, buried in the SAG deal on the table are the seeds of a scathing fight for control of the future of new media.

The issue is which union has jurisdiction over original programming made for new media. The AFTRA deal, which was ratified four months ago, has a provision that says “[i]t is understood and agreed that AFTRA shares jurisdiction” over such programs. That provision would seem to give producers a choice of unions when making such shows.

However, when reviewing the AMPTP offer to SAG, I noticed that the comparable language—“[i]t is understood and agreed that SAG shares jurisdiction”—is struck out. Instead, there are a footnote and another paragraph which state that the studios and SAG disagree on whether jurisdiction would be shared. The language then states that each party reserves its legal positions on the issue. In other words, SAG refuses to agree to shared jurisdiction, and the AMPTP is not pressing the point.

That language means that even if and when a deal is eventually done—which is at least two months off, and probably more—we’ll may find the two unions battling over whether they share jurisdiction in original made for new media production. The studios might well get dragged into the fight too. As such productions grow in importance, the battle is likely to become more pitched, and could rival or exceed the animosity between the two unions on the subject of basic cable jurisdiction and terms. One thing’s sure: there’s are no dull moments in Hollywood labor, only dull contracts.

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