Hey, Mr. Crabtree-Ireland. You Really DO Need Our Help Now.

MEMO TO:  DUNCAN CRABTREE-IRELAND, NATIONAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR & CHIEF NEGOTIATOR, SAG-AFTRA

FROM: STEVE LEBLANG, MEDIA CONSULTANT

RE: NIELSEN STREAMING VIEWING DATA: NEXT STEPS

Dear Mr. Crabtree-Ireland:

This is to offer you and your membership my sincere congratulations for reaching an agreement with Nielsen to provide third-party streaming content measurement information.

For the first time since late last year, you’re back in the news cycle, and in a very positive way.  Several friends and similarly auspiced business colleagues of mine were doing a victory dance similar to what you are yours were doing last fall when you were able to announce to your 160,000 professionals they were able to go back to work when a slew of press releases and stories were released earlier this week, such as this one from DEADLINE’s Peter White:

After scoring a streaming residual bonus with the studios following last year’s strike, SAG-AFTRA has partnered with ratings firm Nielsen to give it more access to data.

The actors guild has partnered with Nielsen to act as its third-party provider of streaming content measurement.  SAG-AFTRA will use Nielsen’s Streaming Content Ratings service to complement data coming from the streamers.

“New business models require new tools, and that’s why we’ve enlisted Nielsen,” said SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director & Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland. “The information they provide will give us the means to cross-check the data streamers give us and ensure employers are fulfilling their contractual obligations to our members.”

“The rapid evolution of the media landscape and audience behaviors over the past decade has not only affected how content is consumed and measured, but also greatly impacts the financial models on which the entertainment industry operates,” added Nielsen CEO Karthik Rao. “We are incredibly proud that SAG-AFTRA has chosen Nielsen as the source for objective and consistent audience measurement insights in the streaming space.”

Seriously, kudos to both you and Mr. Rao.  Knowledge is power, and having an invested customer is great for any business.  Nielsen hasn’t had many wins lately, especially heading into an upfront season where a significant number of legacy clients are investing in a number of their emerging competitors to provide them with more granular and deal-centric data points which their currently accredited and active tools do not yet provide seamlessly.  So I know they are most sincere as they accept your endorsement and, of course, your license fee.

And as VARIETY’s Todd Spengler reminded the world, you clearly have more than enough at stake to justify that expense:

SAG-AFTRA’s deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, reached in December 2023 after a 118-day strike, includes a $40 million residual bonus pool for actors on streaming shows in the first year of the agreement.  The AMPTP deal with SAG-AFTRA provides a 75% residual bonus for actors who appear on the most-watched made-for-streaming shows. Another 25% — or about $10 million in the first year — will go into a Success Bonus Distribution Fund, which will distribute the money more broadly to actors on other made-for-streaming series.

And I’m sure your interest level in having such validation was enhanced after Netflix shared with you and the free world their version of a data dump shortly after you reached your settlement with the AMPTP.  Many media research professionals such as moi parsed that massive spreadsheet which the most transparent and ubiquitous of those streaming services provided as a Christmas present, ultimately concluding as much as we could.  I even worked a bit of holiday-era overtime on this, writing about  both the release of the data and some of what they may have not provided after all before Santa sauntered down any chimney.

I assume you, or at least someone on your team, saw the Excel spreadsheet that provided all of that analysis.  Just in case it slipped your memory, here it is once again.  And I’ll also take a leap of faith that the same invested members of your team have seen Nielsen’s version of raw data.  You’d likely agree it’s anything but a breezy read.

And perhaps I’m feeling a little guilty as well as prideful for potentially starting at least the thought process of Nielsen seeking your business.  Just prior to Mr. Rao’s ascension to the top job at Nielsen last fall, I had a lengthy conversation with both his predescessor and one of his chief lieutenants about the urgency of the opportunity that providing data to your union, as well as the WGA, would provide.  Now I’m not so arrogant that I think my conversation alone led to what you were able to finally announce this week.  But I do know that at the rate that Nielsen tended to react to its clients when I was one of its more valued ones, there’s more than a shred of coincidence in how this all unfolded.

I am certain you know exactly how partial a lens Nielsen provides relative to the level of inclusivity that Netflix did provide relative to screens and devices.  All indications are you know that quite a bit of framing and projecting will be necessary for you to keep the AMPTP members as accountable as possible, and acheive the maximum amount of well-earned revenue for your rank and file.

Though, from the looks of what else was announced about what you’ve been doing this week, you personally seem to have more than a few significant things going on.  Don’t think I missed what DEADLINE’s Katie Campione wrote about what else put your name and face back in the news:

SAG-AFTRA’s Duncan Crabtree-Ireland urged lawmakers to move forward with an AI bill which seeks to provide historic protection against generative artificial intelligence.

“AI technology, left unregulated, poses an existential threat not only to SAG-AFTRA’s members, but to civil discourse, student health & welfare, democracy and national security,” he said during his testimony to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Intellectual Property about the NO FAKES Act (read it here). 

Crabtree-Ireland argued Tuesday that federal regulation is necessary to fully protect the union’s members, because they “cannot control what others do with AI generated digital replicas of them and cannot successfully demand compensation for that use.

“For an artist, their voice and likeness are the foundation of their performance, brand, and identity, developed over time, through investment and hard work. Taking that voice and likeness is a form of theft. It is definitely unethical and must be made illegal,” he said.

So yep, you’re a very, very busy man.  But we both know that we’re about to reach the end of another Emmy awards season cycle, the commencement of upfront negotiations and about that  time that Mr. Sarandos promised the world another data dump, which if his recent pronouncement that they plan to change what they report yet again by year’s end is any indication you may or may not be getting something you can easily conflate with what they provided earlier, let alone extrapolate from it the level of detail needed to make full use of the numbers and tools your not-inexpensive Nielsen deal is allowing you.

So please take this as constructive advice from a truly passionate and qualified professional that no matter how many folks you may already have working on this for you, trust me, you likely don’t have enough to handle all that’s ahead of you, especially when you’re clearly preoccupied with other significant existential issues.

As I’ve attempted to convey to you previously, there’s quite a number of us out there that are seeking some sort of work, thanks in no small part to the priorities to short-term Wall Street reporting and the lack of success so many of those streaming services have seen with so many shows that will likely not contribute to that $40 million success pool that have left so many of is in the kind of need that your membership expressed to you and my one-time Queens neighbor, your boss Fran Drescher, so passionately and effectively a year ago.

Speaking strictly for myself, my own needs are right up there with the intensity of my desire to want to be sure your constituents get what they deserve.  I’m not breathing without the kindness and largesse of some of them.    So you’ll likely not find anyone out there with the combination of expertise, intuition and motivation, and I can assure you, my rate card is more than negotiable.

But I also know the task ahead for you is anything but a one-person job.  What you need is a task force of a few of us, each with slightly different specific areas of expertise in data analysis and deal-making, to make full use of your investment.  And to most effectively service the massive constituency you are charged with representing.

So please, Mr. Crabtree-Ireland, give this memo more than just a fleeting thought.  I’ve been to more than a few of these kind of rodeos, and you’ve got quite a bronc to tame in this case.   You need us, arguably at least as much as we need you.

I look forward to at least the opportunity to discuss this further with you and your team.

Regards,

SL

Until next time…

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