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The longest actors’ strike in Hollywood history is set to end on Thursday following a tentative agreement between SAG-AFTRA and a coalition representing studios and streaming services.
A deal, which still has to be ratified by the membership, would put an end to an acrimonious 118-day strike over contentious issues including the use of artificial intelligence-generated “digital doubles” and demands by performers for higher royalties from streaming services.
The 160,000-member actors’ union announced the agreement on Wednesday following days of intense negotiations. Studio executives presented a proposal on Friday that they described as their “last, best and final” offer.
“This is the progress we wanted,” said one studio executive.
In a statement, a group representing the studios and streaming services said the agreement would give actors “the biggest contract-on-contract gains in the history of the union, including the largest increase in minimum wages in the last 40 years”.
The group, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, said the deal included new royalties for streaming programmes and “consent and compensation protections” covering the use of AI.
Actors took to the picket lines on July 14, joining members of the Writers Guild of America, who had already been on strike since May. It marked the first time the two Hollywood unions had gone on strike at the same time since 1960, with the hit to the California economy estimated to have topped $5bn.
The strikes have had a range of impact on the studios. Warner Bros Discovery warned on Wednesday that they would hurt the company’s ability to achieve its debt reduction targets. But Disney said the strikes had lowered its TV production costs.
After the WGA reached a deal with the studios on September 25, many assumed that the actors would soon follow suit.
But the leadership of SAG-AFTRA had taken a tough stance from the start. Fran Drescher, the actress who serves as the union’s president, linked SAG-AFTRA’s cause with the wider wave of labour activism in the US. As the union went on strike in July, she said “we had no choice” but to fight back against the studios. “Shame on them,” she said.
Drescher often found herself on the other side of the table from some of the most powerful executives in Hollywood, including Disney chief executive Bob Iger and Netflix co-chief Ted Sarandos.
During negotiations on October 12, members of the group representing the studios walked away from talks after Drescher sought a share of revenue generated by streaming services, participants said. Sarandos slammed the request as a “levy”. Talks were suspended but resumed two weeks later.
An end to the strike will allow work to resume on TV shows and films, helping not just actors, directors and crew but also the large ecosystem of caterers, prop houses, seamstresses and others whose livelihoods depend on the business.
A resolution would also allow actors to promote their films and TV programmes — a key element in studios’ marketing campaigns that has been missing as Hollywood has started rolling out its prestige films for the autumn season.
However, there is a sense across Hollywood that actors may encounter smaller budgets when they return to work. Disney, Warner Bros Discovery and other studios are seeking to control spending on content following the excesses of the streaming wars.
As the union was preparing its announcement on Wednesday afternoon, Disney said it was planning to increase its target for annualised cost reductions from $5.5bn to $7.5bn, including cuts on content spending.
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