Commercial acting provides a path into the industry while also putting some much-needed money in your pocket—but just how much money? Here’s a rundown of how much you can expect to get paid for endorsing brands, products, and services as a commercial actor.
Nonunion vs. union projects: Nonunion commercials may be easier to land, but they have no minimum rate guarantees. If you’re doing nonunion commercial work, be sure to always read your contract thoroughly to make sure you have as much protection as possible.
SAG-AFTRA guarantees minimum pay rates for commercial acting. The exact amount depends on the role, where and on what platforms the commercial airs, and how long it will be aired. The union introduced an updated payment structure plan for commercial actors in 2022, which will stay in effect until at least 2025.
On-camera, off-camera, or principal roles: The more you’re in a commercial, the more money you’ll make. Principals earn the highest rates on the SAG-AFTRA scale—up to $20,000 for filming a single commercial.
Session fees: The session fee is the base pay actors make right after they’re done shooting. These payments are locked in if you’re a union member, so it’s a good baseline for how much you’ll make as a commercial actor.
- Principal actors in commercials make between $588.90 and $783.10 as a starting session fee.
- On-camera groups have a starting session fee of between $419.70 and $573.30.
- Off-camera groups earn a starting session fee of between $235 and $332.10.
- Extras in commercials take home a starting fee of between $117.56 and $651.80.
If you get booked for a union commercial, you’ll get paid the promised session fee, even if the commercial is canceled.
Platforms: The next factor impacting pay is the platform the commercial is aired on:
- Linear TV covers most forms of legacy media and includes Class A through C broadcasts, wild spots, national cable, local cable, dealer, ION/Diginet, and Spanish programs.
- Streaming and digital includes commercials and ads on streaming platforms (like Hulu, Max, Prime Video, etc.), and any other miscellaneous digital placements, like on search engines or websites.
- Social media includes platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok. YouTube is also included in this category and will rake in the same amount of money, but it’s technically separate from all other social media platforms.
- Theatrical use refers to ads shown in movie theaters and ones directed at gross market buyers and clients.
- Other commercial platforms that don’t fit the previous categories, such as gaming/VR/AR/emerging platforms, do not yet have set rates for use and exclusivity.
Reach: The bigger the audience, the more money you’ll be due. For example, under SAG minimums, actors earn $300 for a 4-week run as a principal in a local cable commercial, but $1,500 for a 4-week run on national cable.
For foreign use, the commercial airing location determines the rate, as multiples of the original session fee. Here are the numbers to keep in mind:
- U.K.: 3
- Europe: 2
- Asia/Pacific: 2
- Japan: 1
- Rest of world: 1
- Worldwide: 9
For example, if you would have earned $783.10 for being an on-camera principal commercial actor as your original session fee, you should earn $2,349.30—the original session fee multiplied by three—if it’s aired in the U.K.
Length of run: The longer a commercial circulates, the more actors earn in residual payments under a union contract. For Class A programs, such as “The Price Is Right,” residuals are determined by how many times the commercial is aired, starting with the same rate as the session fee and declining with each additional airing.
For linear domestic, traditional digital, and streaming platform use, actors are paid upfront based on how many weeks the commercial circulates, in intervals of 4, 13, and 52 weeks.
Social media commercials net a session fee as well as a residual payment equaling 15% of that initial payment (30% if it airs on YouTube as well as other social media platforms), which you’ll get once per every 30-day cycle.
Keep in mind that all SAG commercial contracts have a 21-month lifespan before renewal, after which the residual table resets and it can go past the maximum allotment again.
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ZipRecruiter lists the average commercial actor salary in the U.S. as just under $57,000 per year—but like most other entertainment workers, commercial actors are typically paid per gig instead of a consistent salary. These payments come in the forms of session fees and residuals.
Residuals: Nonunion commercials generally do not pay residuals—compensation for the continued use of a project beyond its original scope. However, actors working on union commercials receive residuals (or use fees) after airing for 13 weeks. If a commercial you starred in under a union contract gets bumped up to a broader market, you’ll be compensated for the difference. So, if you worked on a commercial that was scheduled for a 4-week run on local cable, then you’d earn $300 as a principal performer. But if it got bumped up to a 13-week run, you’d get another $500 to match the 13-week $800 rate. Residual checks for commercials are sent from payroll companies rather than by SAG.
As with any acting gig, experience and recognizability heavily influence earning potential. Well-known actors and celebrities net higher rates—up to millions of dollars per commercial—than someone who just broke into the industry. Isaiah Mustafa (Old Spice), Morgan Smith-Goodwin (Wendy’s), Stephanie Courtney (Progressive), Kevin Miles (State Farm), and Dean Winters (Allstate) are just a few commercial actors who earn big bucks for their work. Maybe one day, you’ll find your name on that list.