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SAG Strike Looms Over Upfront

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Media Buyers May Delay or Reduce Buys If Dispute Drags On
LOS ANGELES--If the potential for a strike by the Screen Actors Guild still exists as the May upfront season begins, agency media executives suggest it will likely delay their upfront commitments, affect what their clients are willing to pay and determine where their money will be spent.
The scenario is a distinct possibility since the SAG contract does not expire until June 30.
"If it becomes an issue, we would expect a delay in the upfront negotiating period, extending the upfront weeks into the summer," said Larry Cole, Ogilvy & Mather executive vice president, U.S. media director. "A strike or any delay of the fall season would certainly have a bearing on pricing."
"If the networks can't put on fresh programming in the fall, cable will benefit," said Bill Croasdale, president of broadcast for Western International Media. "Cable today is a viable alternative that wasn't really there in '80," when SAG members went on strike from July through October.
"It's not just the potential loss of audience, it's the serious loss of perceived value," said Allen Banks, executive vice president, media director for Saatchi & Saatchi North America. "There is an expectation that comes with having a new season--from new brands to new ad campaigns There would be an intrinsic loss that would go beyond any audience erosion."
Sentiments like those could mean a devastating upfront for the networks.
The first look at how close, or how far, SAG (which is negotiating alongside the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists) is from resolving its differences with the networks and the Alliance of Motion Picture Television Producers will come at midnight, April 2. If no agreement is reached, the current gag order that prevents public discussion ends. "We won't know until then where everybody stands and how entrenched in their positions they are," said a source.
SAG is seeking a redefinition of Fox, UPN and WB as "networks" for salary reasons, and an 8 percent per annum raise over three years, among other demands.
"If there is no new season in the fall and the audience goes elsewhere, you have to wonder if all of that audience will come back when the new shows do finally come on the air," said Saatchi's Banks.