Actors threaten satellite launch

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The Independent Online
ATTEMPTS to launch the BBC's and Thames Television's new satellite channel, UK Gold, in a week's time may fail at the last moment because of an intensifying dispute with Equity, the actors' union.

On Friday, Equity drafted a letter to the BBC threatening legal action on the grounds that neither it nor its partner have the consent of actors or actresses to show programmes they star in.

The channel, due to launch on 1 November, consists almost entirely of Thames and BBC repeats including reruns of series such as EastEnders, Casualty and The Bill.

Derek Lewis, responsible for launching the channel, insists it will not be affected by the row, claiming it is covered by historical royalty agreements with the BBC and the ITV Association.

But Equity's lawyers believe they have a watertight case. Secretary general Ian McGarry says the agreements Equity has with the BBC were intended to cover overseas sales and not a satellite channel partly owned by the corporation. Even when the BBC sold programmes to the now-defunct British Satellite Broadcasting, it entered into a separate agreement, he says.

Ultimately, Equity could try to serve an injunction on the launch.

Relations between both sides are already strained. A fortnight ago Equity served the BBC with a six-month notice to terminate their existing agreement, jeopardising pounds 70m of overseas sales.

At the centre of the issue is the amount of money actors get for reruns. UK Gold has agreed to pay just pounds 2,400 per hour for two transmissions, of which 17 per cent will go to the cast. In a show such as Casualty, with a core cast of 22, this means actors would get an average of pounds 18 each for a repeat. Normally, a repeat on the BBC would net actors about 80 per cent of their original fee.

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