There’s no deal yet between the studios and SAG-AFTRA, but Bob Iger is hopeful an agreement is coming soon.
“I can only say that I’m optimistic that we’ll figure that out relatively soon,” the Disney CEO said Wednesday just after the media giant released the mixed results of its Q4 earnings. One-hundred-eighteen days into the labor action by the actors guild, Hollywood was bursting with confidence that an end to the strike was imminent. In particular, that joy came from the two sides getting closer in an agreement over the contentious issues of AI protections.
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But there was no deal last night as SAG-AFTRA negotiating committee continued to pour over the AMPTP’s self-described “last, best and final offer” of November 3.
Today, Iger told CNBC in a live on-air sit-down that things were in motion. “I don’t want to specify except that we’re all, SAG and the AMPTP companies are very hard at work and trying to solve this – as we speak.”
“First of all, let me begin by saying I have the utmost respect for actors,” the exec noted at the top of the interview. “They’re an incredibly important part of The Walt Disney Company for obvious reasons. And we’ve been hard at work. We, the companies involved in this business, as well as the Screen Actors Guild, in trying to figure out a way to get them back to work.”
That’s a very different tone from what Iger said back in July just before SAG-AFTRA went on strike and the WGA had already been out on the picket lines for over a month. Back then, the CEO told CNBC that guild members were “just not realistic” in their demands and “quite frankly, very disruptive.” Coming off a Deadline exclusive on the studios’ endgame strategy to squeeze union members financially over the months to get their leadership to make a deal, the tin-eared remarks tainted Iger as the Marie Antoinette of the dispute – a persona the smooth operator has been trying to lose ever since.
The vast majority of SAG-AFTRA’s 160,000 members have been out on the picket lines since mid-July. Joining the already striking WGA, who settled their dispute with the studios in late September, the overall labor action shut Hollywood down, brought havoc to a fall TV season, and has reached into the 2024 movie slates.
“In terms of the impact on the business, so far, it’s been negligible,” Iger said Wednesday of the strike with no small degree of intentional understatement. “Long-term, meaning if the strike goes on much longer, it could become significant,” he added on the eve of a weekend that will see The Marvels likely have a weak opening. “Obviously, we’d like to try to preserve a summer of films. The entire industry is focused on that. We don’t have much time to do that — I think a week, two weeks.”
On the Disney earnings call going on right now, Iger kicked things off in language very similar to what the CEO told CNBC in a sit-down right after the earnings report dropped this afternoon. While speaking at length about the blue sky prospects he saw for the company going into the second year of his second reign as CEO, a clearly more energized Iger did not mention the strike once in his opening comments.
Along with Warner Bros Discovery’s David Zaslav, Netflix’s Ted Sarandos and NBCUniversal’s Donna Langley, Iger has frequently been directly involved in sometimes explosive SAG-AFTRA negotiations as one of the CEO’s Gang of Four. In fact, it was Iger who called up guild chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland on the 100th day of the strike to get the parties back to the bargaining table on October 24 after talks were suspended on October 11 by the studios.
Both Zaslav and Iger were eager to see a deal reached before today’s quarterly earnings results, studio sources tell us. WBD stock took a double digit drop after their earnings report this morning. Disney saw a 3.5% dip in after hours trading so far.
The CEO quartet were also strong participants in the WGA talks, which resulted in a tentative agreement on September 24 and an overwhelming ratification by scribes on October 9.
Amid a ton of back channeling yesterday and today, there are no plans for the Gang of Four to get involved in negotiations, either face-to-face or virtually, Wednesday — at least not right now, but of course that could change.
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