Hollywood actors angry about the erosion of their earnings from television and radio advertisements will stage their first strike in more than a decade today, taking to the streets of Los Angeles, Chicago and New York instead of reporting for work.
The entertainment industry's two main acting unions, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, voted unanimously in favour of the walkout, arguing that jobbing actors had seen their earnings from commercials plummet as a result of waning viewership of the main networks and the rise of lower-paying cable stations.
According to wage agreements worked out in television's infancy more than 40 years ago, actors receive a royalty every time one of their adverts is aired on a network. Cable adverts only offer a flat fee for a 12 or 13-week broadcasting cycle.
Since network television accounts for only 50 per cent of audience figures and advertising revenues, compared with 95 per cent a generation ago, earnings have fallen steadily.
Advertisers are confident they can weather a strike by running old commercials and hiring non-unionised actors for as long as it takes. They are even pushing to get rid of royalties on network adverts. But even they concede that ads featuring celebrity actors are likely to dry up until the matter can be resolved.
The last time actors went on strike, also over adverts, their action led to a five-month walkout by the Screen Actors Guild and affected the autumn line-up on network television. Entertainment industry unions have endured a rough decade as studios and networks have sought to cut back production costs to offset the growing expense of marketing. There have been signs of resurgent union activity, but many of these efforts have been frustrated by productions moving abroad or to "right-to-work" non-unionised states.
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