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The Equity/SAG-AFTRA Streaming Deal is Done

The temporary pandemic pact between the unions has expired.

This edition of Industry Trends appeared earlier in BroadwayWorld's Industry Pro Newsletter. Want to be the first to know about the latest industry trends? Click here to sign up!

You may remember that in fall 2020, Actors' Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA were involved in a bitter dispute about streaming theater. The unions then reached a temporary agreement allowing Equity to handle most streaming theater. All was quiet. But that agreement has expired and SAG-AFTRA believes it is back to representing actors for streaming theatrical projects.

Let's talk about some history. As detailed in an October 7, 2020 New York Times article, Equity's original position was that if the streaming theater was originating from an Equity house, it fell under Equity domain. Equity accused SAG-AFTRA of overstepping by entering into contracts with its theaters. SAG-AFTRA meanwhile believed Equity was infringing on SAG-AFTRA's "long-held, exclusive jurisdiction" over streamed live theater productions. SAG-AFTRA even announced it was investigating Equity's Media Committee.

This was a little inside baseball for most, but it mattered. Equity said SAG-AFTRA was allowing work for lower rates. SAG-AFTRA agreements do not cover stage managers. Oh, and, yeah, during a pandemic, there were health insurance implications.

On October 17, 2020, SAG-AFTRA announced the filing a formal complaint against Equity and asked that Associated Actors and Artistes of America (4As) provide a mediator. SAG-AFTRA said it repeatedly offered to stand down during the pandemic, but wanted Equity to recognize that streaming was theirs and they were offering an exception. Equity was unwilling to concede this point.

But by mid-November it was all over: the "Agreement Between Actors' Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA" was finalized, its term to run through December 31, 2021. Under the agreement, in simple terms, if the streaming event was taking place at an Equity theater and was happening either as a replacement for live theater or as part of a hybrid live/virtual experience, Equity could reach the agreement about it. (Though broadcasts on paid streaming services and broadcast networks were carved out.) As part of the agreement, Equity (obviously begrudgingly) agreed that "work done for recorded or broadcast/livestreamed media, including the transmission of a live theater performance outside the theater itself, ordinarily falls within SAG-AFTRA's exclusive jurisdiction."

The Agreement was extended for two six-month periods, but expired at the end of 2022. There were talks between the unions, but no new agreement was reached. For theaters that in 2022 entered into Equity contracts with streaming components, those streaming events can occur uninterrupted in 2023, according to Equity. It's everything that is agreed to in 2023 on where the issue arises.

As recently covered in this column, there are theaters that intend to stream well into the future.

An Equity spokesperson stated: "If a theatre has an Equity contract, their relationship is with Equity and that should be where the conversation begins."

However, in a provided statement, a SAG-AFTRA spokesperson made it seem like streaming is back in the SAG-AFTRA domain: "SAG-AFTRA has been pleased to support Actors Equity Association with this agreement during a period of great challenge to the live performance sector. We will of course continue our long-standing role representing performers for work streamed by theaters going forward."

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