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AFTRA in Talks Over Soap Operas Moving to Web

Lower fees if canceled soap operas move to new media are likely to produce mixed feelings among actors.

The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists is in discussions with Prospect Park over the entertainment firm’s plans to turn “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” into Web series. Talks began shortly after the company announced earlier this month that it would license the rights to the shows from ABC, which will cease broadcasting the long-running soaps this year. AFTRA is in the process of scheduling meetings with cast members to address their concerns and advise them of their rights under the union’s Network Code agreement.

No doubt plenty of “AMC” and “OLTL” actors will be eager to hear what AFTRA reps have to say at those meetings. Since the Prospect Park deal was announced, observers have speculated that sizeable cost cuts will be needed in order to fit the show onto the Web—and that some of those cost cuts may come in the form of pay cuts for long-time cast members. As the Los Angeles Times noted recently, a typical daytime soap opera costs about $50 million per year to produce. That’s vastly more than web budgets.

Prospect Park did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Actors may have mixed feelings about a deal such as this. On one hand, asking well-known cast members of two successful programs—ones where the extreme devotion of the still-sizeable hardcore audience stems, in large part, from the comfort of seeing those actors appear on screen day in and day out—is bound to produce pushback.

On the other, a profitable model for daily dramas on the web won’t just represent a ray of hope for the otherwise-doomed soap genre. It will be a breakthrough in the gradual, inevitable shift of scripted content from broadcast television to computers and mobile devices. Actors, of course, only work if producers produce—and that requires sustainable business models.