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20 December 20237 minute read

Inside the SAG-AFTRA collective bargaining agreement

Members of SAG-AFTRA (the actors’ guild) have ratified a new three-year collective bargaining agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), with 78.33 percent of the SAG-AFTRA members who voted supporting ratification.

According to a recent public statement made by SAG-AFTRA’s negotiating committee, the new agreement, ratified on December 5, “achieved a deal of extraordinary scope” that includes over one billion dollars in new wages and benefit funding, guardrails for the use of artificial intelligence (AI), and new compensation structures for residuals and other gains (financial and otherwise). Here is a look inside the terms of the agreement.

Artificial intelligence

The new agreement outlines key regulations regarding AI, including distinguishing between “employment-based digital replicas” and “independently created digital replicas.”

“Employment-based digital replicas” are those created during a performer’s employment, with the performer’s physical participation.

“Independently created digital replicas” are those created outside of a performer’s employment, often using pre-existing materials.

Both types of digital replicas are used to portray the performer in scenes they did not physically shoot; however, the two different types of digital replicas require varying levels of consent and compensation. Use of employment-based digital replicas requires producers to pay performers not less than the amount that the performers would otherwise have been paid for their physical performance. Compensation for use of independently created digital replicas, on the other hand, will be negotiated between the parties freely.

Digital replicas also cannot be used to avoid the engagement of background actors. Producers are required to employ a minimum number of background actors for each day of principal photography; producers cannot use digital replicas to satisfy that minimum employment obligation.

Producers are not required to acquire performers’ consent if the AI use is for “post-production alterations, editing, arranging, rearranging, revising or manipulating of photography and/or sound track for purposes of cosmetics, wardrobe, noise reduction, timing or speed, continuity, pitch or tone, clarity, addition of visual/sound effects or filters, standards and practices, ratings, an adjustment in dialogue or narration or other similar purposes.”

A key area not addressed is the AMPTP’s ability to create “synthetic performers,” or digitally created performers not built on the specific scans of actors, but trained based on AI models of real actors. Producers must notify SAG-AFTRA if they create synthetic performers and bargain over whether compensation or any other consideration is appropriate.

Minimums increases and increased health and pension contribution rate

Minimum wages shall increase by 7 percent effective November 9, 2023; 4 percent on July 1, 2024; and 3.5 percent on July 1, 2025. While this is less than the 11 percent increase that the union initially asked for, it is higher than the 5 percent increase that the Writers Guild of America (WGA) agreed to in their recent negotiations.

The union also gained a $10,000 increase to the ceiling of each performer’s annual contributions to the SAG-AFTRA Health and Pension/Retirement funds for half-hour TV series and new media motion pictures and a $10,500 increase to the contribution ceiling for one-hour TV series and new media motion pictures.

Viewership-based streaming bonus and data transparency

SAG-AFTRA agreed to a streaming bonus structured similarly to the streaming bonus agreed to by the WGA in their new collective agreement. The streaming bonus (also known as a “success payment”) shall be payable to performers on high budget made-for-streaming programs (High Budget SVOD Programs) that are viewed by 20 percent or more of a streaming provider’s domestic subscribers in the first 90 days of such program’s release, with views calculated as hours streamed domestically of the program divided by total runtime of the program (or if the program is a series, total runtime of the applicable season of the program).

Under the new agreement, a High Budget SVOD Program is defined as a 20–35 minute program with a budget of $1.03 million and above, a 26–65 minute program with a budget of $1.75 million and above, or a program of 66 minutes or more with a budget of $3 million and above.

The bonus shall equal 100 percent of the applicable fixed High Budget SVOD Program residual payable for the applicable year. Unlike the WGA’s streaming bonus, the funds collected are allocated among a 75/25 distribution model: 75 percent will go directly to SAG-AFTRA members of the streaming program, while the remaining 25 percent (plus remaining benefit fund contributions) will go back into the Success Bonus Distribution Fund to be co-run by SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP member companies and allocated pursuant to distribution guidelines adopted by the Fund that will govern the payment of Fund contributions to performers.

Because of this new streaming bonus requirement, AMPTP member companies will now be obligated to provide SAG-AFTRA with information on the total number of hours streamed for each High Budget SVOD Program (in the United States and Canada), which shall be subject to a confidentiality agreement and not made available to the public.

Notably, following the ratification, Netflix for the first time released a report of what people watched on the streaming service during a six-month period. The report, titled “What We Watched: A Netflix Engagement Report,” is set to be published twice a year, and measures the hours viewed for every title (if such title had more than 50,000 hours viewed), whether or not the title is a Netflix original or a licensed program. The report is among the most in-depth metrics Netflix has released about its subscriber engagement. No other streaming service has announced plans to supply the public with similar data regarding their subscribers’ viewing habits.

Self-tape and virtual interviews and auditions

SAG-AFTRA’s members were also vocal regarding the need for increased regulations for self-taped auditions. The new agreement creates a comprehensive framework around self-tapes, virtual interviews, and auditions, including requirements that producers provide “breakdowns, sides, and/or scripts” to performers at least 48 hours prior to the audition submission deadline. Performers may not be asked to perform more than eight industry standard pages for a first self-tape, and signatories cannot request the performance of stunts during self-auditions.

What’s next

Many SAG-AFTRA members openly opposed the new agreement, fearing that it does not sufficiently protect SAG-AFTRA members from the use of AI. One major sticking point, for those who voted against ratification, is the new agreement’s allowance for “synthetic performers” to take roles, as noted above. Some members, among them high-profile AI critic and former SAG-AFTRA National Board Member Justine Bateman, believe SAG-AFTRA should have blocked this practice altogether, urging members to only vote yes “if they don’t want to work anymore.” Nothing under the new agreement prohibits the use of SAG-AFTRA performances to train AI tools, nor does the new agreement prevent producers from requiring scans and replications as a condition of employment. SAG-AFTRA did secure a promise to meet “regularly” with producers to discuss potential pay for performances being used to train a generative AI system.

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA’s chief negotiator, acknowledges that he doesn’t expect the “debates and dialogues” surrounding the new agreement to end. “What I expect to happen over the next couple of years, as these terms play out, is that we’ll be getting feedback from our members on what’s working, what needs to be improved upon,” he says. “And like every cycle, that’ll continue to be something to build on.”

Other unions

The new SAG-AFTRA collective bargaining agreement is being ratified as the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), which represents over 170,000 behind-the-scenes entertainment workers, prepares to begin negotiations with the AMPTP regarding IATSE’s 2024 Basic Agreement.

Learn more

Find out more about the implications of the collective bargaining agreement and other industry union actions by contacting any of the authors.