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SAG, AFTRA Eye Video Game Strike

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The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) are asking their members to consider striking producers of video games.

The two unions are hosting three informational caucuses next week in New York (Tuesday), Los Angeles (Monday), and San Francisco (Tuesday) for voiceover actors who work in interactive media.

"Members of the voice community will be given a full report on the progress of interactive negotiations," the unions explain in a website press announcement. "A strike authorization vote will be conducted among those present who work these contracts. This is a vote that authorizes the unions' elected leaders to call a strike only if bargaining fails."

SAG and AFTRA are in the midst of extended talks with a group of video game producers on new agreements covering interactive media. The unions and the producers have extended their current pacts to May 13, the third such extension. AFTRA notes on its website that the union's interactive media contract expired on Dec. 31, 2004. Other than the unions' press release, a news blackout on the negotiations remains in effect.

A major issue of the talks appears to be residuals for the use not only of actors' voices, but their likenesses and performances as well, according to The Hollywood Reporter. "The current deal, a first-of-its-kind contract reached with EA and later joined by more than 50 companies, does not include residuals but does set minimum pay rates," the April 18 article states. EA is the video game company Electronic Arts.

SAG first negotiated its Interactive Media Agreement in 1993. According to the guild's report on members' earnings through 2001, industrial and interactive media income grew from $13.2 million in 1997 to just $14.0 million in 2001, a 6% increase. No figures are available for the years after 2001; SAG stopped releasing earnings reports in 2002.

The video game industry, meanwhile, has flourished.

Special Income Effects

Electronic Arts is leading the coalition of video game makers in its talks with SAG and AFTRA. "EA markets its products worldwide under four brand logos and has over 33 product franchises that have reached more than a million unit sales worldwide," according to the company's website. EA's headquarters is located in Redwood City, Calif.

According to Reuters, for the nine months ending Dec. 31, 2004, EA's revenues increased 9% to $2.58 billion, while net income increased 2% to $496.6 million, driven by demand for the games "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," "The Lord of the Rings," and "Madden 2004." Forbes magazine recently listed EA's chairman and CEO, Lawrence Probst III, in its annual list of the 250 best-paid CEOs in the country. Probst earned $24.2 million last year.

EA recently signed on writer-director John Milius -- whose credits include "Apocalypse Now," "Conan the Barbarian," and "Red Dawn" -- to create the story for one of EA's newest projects, "Medal of Honor: European Assault."

A 2004-05 report called "Video Game Industry" by London's RocSearch Ltd. states that the worldwide market for video games, computer games, and interactive entertainment hardware and software will "grow from $20.7 billion in 2002 to $30 billion in 2007." In the United States alone, the video game industry generated $10.3 billion in sales in 2002, according to the study.

The growing force of video games became even more apparent last week when the Walt Disney Co. announced that its Buena Vista Games had acquired Avalanche Software and would establish a new video game studio. Late last year, Disney earmarked $40 million for the development of its video game business. Buena Vista Games earned $265 million in revenue during the 2004 fiscal year and plans to reach $536 million in 2006, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

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