Are actors being cheated on royalties for performing in thinly disguised commercials aired on the internet?
There’s no question that companies are exploiting the internet for its marketing possibilities.
In talking to one that specializes in Digital Marketing, I was enlightened to the fact that Facebook, Twitter, and the like are basically opportunities for marketing companies to identify and solidify consumer pools. As users, we are essentially pigs being fattened up before being led to slaughter. We’re exposed to targeted and none too-subtle ads. If we check out a product on a shopping site but don’t purchase it, algorithms are in place that can place banner ads on other pages that we view. It’s not because the company just happened to do a simultaneous marketing push. That visit initiated that inundation.
More and more marketers are engaging social media users in the video content that they view. Beyond placing banner ads on YouTube partners’ pages, marketers often avoid the backlash incited from pre-video commercials by contracting the video channel owners to create sponsor specific content. It may seem like a short, but is in actuality, a commercial scripted around the product.
SAG-AFTRA, the union for over 165,000 actors and radio artists, has set no minimum for paying actors in its New Media Agreement. Perusing the SAG-AFTRA site, I found no provision that binds content makers in revealing the sponsor relationship. Additionally, sponsor-derived content is under the auspices of the New Media Agreement, not the Commercial Agreement. The SAG-AFTRA national press contact has failed to respond to a query.
Actors performing in these thinly-veiled commercials can be paid $1 and are not entitled to any residuals. The only opportunity an actor has for residuals is when the content’s final cost is $25K or more per minute and “is exhibited on a consumer-pay-platform beyond 26 weeks.”
However, as of April 2011, performers in commercials made directly for New Media should be paid the same minimum fees as commercials made for initial use on broadcast. The minimum session fee for commercials is $592.20. For one year of use on the internet, the minimum is 350% of the session fee.
So what defines a commercial? They are defined as “short advertising messages, 3 minutes or less in length.” Messages over 3 minutes fall under the auspices of another agreement. That means that all content makers have to do to avoid having their content classified as a commercial and in turn, avoid paying their performers, is to make content that is more than 3 minutes. Remember, SAG-AFTRA has no minimum for New Media content.
With the $25K threshold for projects, it’s doubtful that the content makers are making a huge amount of money, but it’s considerably more than the amount that performers get (though they may get non-production related fees). As it stands now for marketers however, the internet is a wide open range for cheap and even free labor.