The union for Hollywood actors has gone on strike for the first time in 43 years after failing to agree a pay deal with media giants including Netflix and Disney.
It follows an ongoing strike of screenwriters, which began in May.
Why? Both writers and actors say the transition to streaming has affected their financial security and healthcare. They are also concerned about risks posed by artificial intelligence.
The Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) is the peak union for actors and media personalities in the U.S. It represents about 160,000 actors.
The Writers Guild of America (WGA) represents roughly 11,500 U.S. screenwriters and media writers.
Both groups have been negotiating deals over pay and working conditions with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents Amazon, Apple, NBC, Disney, Netflix, Paramount, Sony and Warner Brothers.
Why are writers on strike?
Screenwriters from the WGA have been on strike since May after failing to reach a deal with the AMPTP. They say media companies have not compensated them fairly for the transition to streaming.
Streaming TV shows tend to have shorter seasons than network shows and are produced at less regular intervals. Streaming companies also do not typically offer ‘residual’ payments (i.e. royalties) in the same way networks do.
The writers say this has affected their financial security and also their healthcare, which is tied to their earnings.
Why are actors going on strike?
SAG-AFTRA has expressed similar concerns about the impact of the shift to streaming on actor’s earnings and healthcare.
The union says, like writers, actors have also been harmed by fewer residuals, shorter seasons and longer gaps between seasons.
Both writers and actors have also expressed concerns about the impact of AI on their work, including fears technology could be used to recreate an actor’s voice and likeness.
Why media companies won’t agree
U.S. entertainment companies argue that while many have posted large profits in recent years, streaming has affected their short-term profitability.
Reasons include the upfront costs of hosting libraries of original and purchased content on streaming platforms, and a drop-off in subscriber growth in the midst of global cost of living pressures.
This pressure prompted Netflix to crack down on password sharing after its first-ever drop in subscribers last year.
The actors’ strike begins
At midnight on Thursday (U.S. time), SAG-AFTRA announced actors would join writers on strike.
SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher said the decision was made with “great sadness… but we had no choice. We are the victims here. We are being victimised by a very greedy entity. I am shocked by the way the people that we have been in business with are treating us.”
Striking actors are prevented from almost all forms of work, including film promotion. The cast of the film ‘Oppenheimer’ left the film’s premiere when the strike was announced.
‘Oppenheimer’ actor Matt Damon told the Associated Press he supported the strike in solidarity with low-income actors.
“$26,000 a year is what you have to make to get your health insurance… residual payments are what carry [many actors] across that threshold. And if those residual payments dry up, so does their healthcare.”
AMPTP has not released any statement acknowledging the strike.
However, in an interview on U.S. TV network CNBC, Disney CEO Bob Iger called the outcome “disturbing” and accused actors and writers of having “a level of expectation… that is just not realistic.”