AFTRA hits new-media stumbling block

Roberta Reardon outlines 'challenging issues'

AFTRA has run into "challenging issues" with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers that might not have a "quick or easy" resolution, the performers union president Roberta Reardon told members in an e-mail Monday.

The message comes amid of a press blackout during the nine days of talks with producers on the union's primetime TV contract, which started May 7 at the AMPTP's headquarters in the San Fernando Valley. The contract expires June 6.

"We are confronting a number of challenging issues, and a resolution may not be quick or easy," Reardon wrote. "However, our discussions with the industry have been professional and businesslike, and we remain focused on continuing negotiations in this vein."

Among the most high-profile of those issues: new media and how its members "will participate in original new-media productions, and under what circumstances employers can exploit excerpts from traditional TV programs in new media," Reardon wrote. "The AFTRA negotiating committee is engaged in thoughtful and pragmatic discussions about how to ensure that performers are best protected as we consider these thorny issues."

Additionally, Reardon said AFTRA's negotiating committee "delivered a strong message" that its members will not give up control of the use of its clips in new media. The AMPTP has proposed setting up an online library in which users can download clips for a price. The producers have said it's a good way to fight piracy, but they're asking actors to give up the consent they've long had over the use of clips, outside the scope of promotional use.

Reardon said AFTRA is mindful "of the hard realities affecting the television business today -- including audience fragmentation, piracy and the other complexities arising out of the fast-evolving new-media landscape -- and the impact this has on the wages and job opportunities for working performers."

AFTRA has been negotiating the primetime TV contract on its own after suspending its 27-year joint-bargaining agreement with SAG. Some observers suggested AFTRA would be in a position to make a deal quickly with the AMPTP since the two sides agreed upon the union's Network Code early this year. Conversely, some suggested AFTRA would be hindered by its decision to forego joint bargaining with SAG.

While Reardon's message points out the hurdles facing AFTRA, industry labor attorney Ivy Kagan Bierman said that it doesn't mean there can't be a timely deal.

"I think that this is a very smart message to the AFTRA members," she said. "I believe that the purpose of the message is to manage the members' expectations. Rather than spewing passionate rhetoric, it sends the message that the negotiating committee feels an obligation to its members to be 'pragmatic' and 'solutions-minded' while at the same time ensuring that its members participate in a 'fair and reasonable' way in Internet and mobile content."

The AMPTP declined comment on the e-mail because of the news blackout. SAG also declined to discuss the message.

Reardon also gave kudos to AFTRA's negotiating committee, which is chaired by Matt Kimbrough and includes Polly Adams, Dave Andriole, Bobbie Bates, Alan Blumenfeld, Susan Boyd Joyce, Stephen Collins, Milo Edwards, Jason George, Jay Gerber, Holter Graham, Robert Pine, Sam Robards and Ann Walker.