SAG-AFTRA‘s new contract is worth more than $1 billion over three years. But the union did not get one of its top priorities: a share of revenue from each streaming platform.
Fran Drescher, the union president, made that her top priority, arguing it was essential to transform the contract to keep up with a transformed industry. She sought 2% of streaming revenue, later cut to 1%, or about $500 million per year.
The studios vowed that would never happen, and it did not. Instead, the union won a “streaming participation bonus” that will be worth about $40 million annually, according to Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the union’s top negotiator.
“It’s not $500 million,” he said in an interview on Thursday. “We were never expecting that would be the ultimate number. On the other hand, adding something that is worth $120 million over the term of the contract is significant.”
Actors’ residuals on made-for-streaming shows are capped at fairly low levels. An actor on a one-hour episode of an Amazon show would make no more than $2,000 in the first year of reuse. The same episode on a broadcast network could pay up to $3,600 for each rerun, with the potential for multiple reruns in a year.
Drescher argued that in order for actors to be able to sustain a livelihood in the streaming era, it was essential to “get into the pocket” of streaming revenue.
“We have to find the pocket of that money, so we get our rightful share because we’re building this platform and they are building the business on us,” she told Variety in July.
When the studios refused to share revenue, SAG-AFTRA came back with a proposal for a 57-cent-per-subscriber fee. That, too, went nowhere.
“It became clear during course of the strike that the studios and streamers weren’t going to go there,” Crabtree-Ireland said. “So our committee decided to pivot.”
They ended up with a streaming bonus that is modeled on terms obtained by the Writers Guild of America. Under the WGA deal, writers on successful streaming shows will get a 50% bonus on their standard residual. A “successful” show is one that attracts views amounting to the equivalent of 20% of a platform’s subscriber base in the first 90 days.
The SAG-AFTRA deal works similarly, except that the bonus will be worth 100% of an actor’s residual. However, only a portion of that money will go to actors on those most-watched shows. The remainder will go to a fund jointly administered by the employers and the union. That money will then be distributed more broadly to actors on a range of streaming shows — not just the most popular ones.
In concept, the joint fund will operate similarly to how the revenue-sharing proposal would have worked — though with much less money to distribute.
Crabtree-Ireland called it a “hybrid” model — combining elements of a performance-based bonus with a more broad-based residual for actors on streaming.
“The net result will be a wider distribution of money to more members,” Crabtree-Ireland said.
The trustees of the joint fund will have to decide exactly how to apportion the money, as that formula is not set down in the tentative agreement.
Such a fund has not existed before in the TV/Theatrical contract. Crabtree-Ireland said it will be similar to funds established by the union’s music and commercials contracts.
The $40 million figure is merely an estimate, as it remains to be seen how many shows will meet the viewership threshold to qualify for the bonus. The WGA and SAG-AFTRA will both be closely monitoring how the system works in practice, especially as they prepare for the next negotiation in 2026.
Union leaders said that while the union did not get everything it wanted this time, it did force the studios to make structural change. And it can come back for more money in three years.
“Fran was talking about about how we need to be in a ‘new pocket,’” said Sean Astin, a member of the negotiating committee. “That process has begun. They didn’t want to do it. We came away with the infrastructure of an approach to streaming that over time hopefully will repair the damage that’s been done to the actor’s lifestyle. Hopefully we’re starting to claw our way back.”