Negotiations between the major entertainment studios and the union representing tens of thousands of actors have collapsed, with both sides saying they remained far apart on the most significant issues.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of the studios, said it was suspending talks because they were “no longer moving us in a productive direction” after a session on Wednesday. SAG-AFTRA, the actors’ union, which has been on strike since July, accused studio executives of “bully tactics,” and said in a statement early Thursday that the studios had recently presented an offer “that was, shockingly, worth less than they proposed before the strike began.”
The collapse of the negotiations is a significant setback for the entertainment industry, which has essentially been at a standstill for months because of dual strikes by actors and screenwriters. On Monday, more than 8,000 screenwriters ratified a new three-year contract with the studio alliance, formally ending their monthslong labor dispute. There was optimism that a deal with the actors would follow and that Hollywood could soon fully roar back to life.
But with actors continuing to strike, most television and movie production remains suspended. The financial fallout has been significant. The California economy has lost an estimated $5 billion. Tens of thousands of behind-the-scenes workers have been out of work for months. Share prices for many major media companies have dropped, and now there is a further threat to next year’s box office results.
Since the Writers Guild of America ended its strike late last month, there had been increased confidence that TV and film production could soon be fully up and running. Television writers’ rooms had started up again, and preproduction schedules for new films had been confirmed. All that remained was for the studios and the actors to reach a deal.
Now it’s not clear when talks will resume.
“I really think the parties need to stay in negotiations until they get the deal done,” said Ivy Kagan Bierman, chair of the entertainment labor practice at Loeb & Loeb, a prominent Los Angeles law firm. “These repeated suspensions and delays are having a devastating effect not only on the guild and union members but on others both in the industry and outside the industry.”
Like their counterparts in the screenwriters’ guild, leaders of the actors’ union have called this moment “existential.” They are seeking wage increases, as well as protections around the use of artificial intelligence. Actors have now been on strike for 91 days; screenwriters recently returned to work after a 148-day walkout. The last time both unions had been on strike at the same time was 1960.
When negotiations between the actors’ union and the studios resumed last week — just days after the studios and screenwriters reached a tentative agreement — it was the first time the sides had met since the actors went on strike on July 14. Five bargaining sessions were held, and many industry observers believed the talks would soon lead to a deal.
In a statement released early Thursday, the studio alliance said it had offered wage increases, met “nearly all of the union’s demands on casting” and proposed further protections around the use of A.I. The alliance also said it had offered “the same terms that were ratified” by both the writers’ and directors’ unions regarding wage increases and streaming royalties.
The alliance also said, however, that the actors’ union wanted a viewership bonus that “would cost more than $800 million per year, which would create an untenable economic burden.”
The meeting on Wednesday ended in the afternoon as scheduled, with both parties initially agreeing to return to the table on Thursday morning, the union’s executive director and chief negotiator, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, said in a phone interview from a picket line outside Netflix in Los Angeles. Mr. Crabtree-Ireland said that, a few hours later, he had heard from the alliance’s chief negotiator, Carol Lombardini, and two of the executives who had been in the talks, informing him that the negotiations were being called off because “they told us that they would not engage or agree to any proposal that was attached to the revenue streams.”
“Let me be super clear: They walked away from this negotiation — not us,” Mr. Crabtree-Ireland added.
The statement that talks had been suspended came hours after NBCUniversal’s Studio Group chairwoman and chief content officer, Donna Langley, one of four top studio executives who attended each of the negotiating sessions, spoke at a Bloomberg conference in Los Angeles. She vowed to “spend as much time as it takes until we can reach a resolution and get the industry back on its feet and back to work.”
That hope didn’t last long. Appearing at the conference on Thursday morning, Netflix’s co-chief executive Ted Sarandos, one of four executives who attended the negotiating sessions, called the union’s latest proposal on revenue sharing, which he described as a “subscriber levy,” “a bridge too far.”
Mr. Crabtree-Ireland said: “Their position was the only way they’ll keep talking is if we give them a whole new set of counters. They’re not going to respond to what we gave them. They just want us to go back and start over and that’s not going to happen.”
The stalemate recalled a contentious moment between the writers and the studios during that five-month work stoppage.
On Aug. 22, four top studio executives — Ms. Langley; Mr. Sarandos; the Walt Disney Company’s chief executive, Robert A. Iger; and Warner Bros. Discovery’s chief executive, David Zaslav — met with the writers’ negotiating committee. Not much progress was made, and the alliance also chose to publicly disclose its latest offer, drawing the ire of the writers. There were no more negotiations for three weeks.