THE EQUITY DISPUTE: Voiceover row reaches impasse



The ad industry’s representative bodies call on Equity to drop

pre-conditions and start talking

The Equity dispute over artists’ fees for commercials voiceovers moved

on to a new footing this week with an outspoken attack on the ad

industry by Harry Enfield, and news both of actors breaking the strike

and agencies preparing to use actors at the old, disputed rates.

As many observers remain bemused as to what the strike is really about,

let alone how the situation became this serious, Campaign sought to

present the views of both IPA/ISBA and Equity without editorial comment.

Unfortunately the industry’s representative bodies claimed they would be

unable to agree on a suitable statement in time. Instead we’ve

summarised a statement we were sent last week, purporting to be

IPA/ISBA’s latest position.

- It was Equity which withdrew from the negotiations in February 1997

and which refuses to meet IPA/ISBA unless we drop any proposal to vary

the 1991 agreement for voiceovers.

- IPA/ISBA remain minded to seek to make an agreement. However, we

remain resolute in seeking one which contains a significant reduction in

voiceover fees.

- IPA/ISBA have made no proposals to change the basis of remuneration

for featured visual artists and have made an offer to improve

substantially the terms for walk-ons.

- IPA/ISBA have made no proposals which would have led to some roles

currently cast as featured being cast as walk-ons. On the other hand, we

have proposed that guidelines and tapes designed to clarify the

definitions be incorporated into the agreement.

- Although there are isolated cases involving individual celebrities, TV

ads of high quality continue to be widely produced in spite of the

existence of two instructions from Equity to its members not to accept

such roles.

- If actors or artists, through following Equity’s instructions, are

prevented from accepting roles in TV commercials, then it is likely that

more scripts will be written which do not require them.

- For voiceover roles, the evidence is that engagements are being made

at a level of fees lower than the now defunct 1991 agreement would have

required, including many below the pre-existing minimum.

- IPA/ISBA believe that any resolution involving Equity can only come

about by the union being willing to return to the negotiations which it

left in February 1997, and dropping the pre-condition that any new

agreement must provide for the same structure and scale of use-fee

payments for non-visual as for visual artists.

- IPA/ISBA are not planning with the expectation of the continued

involvement of ACAS, but we would be willing to respond to ACAS


- The meeting of IPA chiefs, heads of TV and creative directors last

week gave a unanimous endorsement of the current negotiating stance.


Ian McGarry, the general secretary of the actors’ union, says

negotiation can resolve the dispute

The damaging and unwanted dispute between Equity and the advertising

industry need never have happened. It is undermining the quality of

advertising and costing the industry money. If the industry’s

negotiating team would agree to talks with Equity without setting

pre-conditions, we believe it would be over in days.

The negotiating team claims that the industry is paying too much to

actors who do voiceovers and has proposed that their earnings should be

cut by two-thirds. No talks are currently taking place because the

employers have insisted that Equity must accept in advance that the

talks will be about savage cuts in fees for voiceovers, otherwise there

would be no agreement at all. They must have known when they tabled this

proposition that it would be unacceptable to us. Equity, on the other

hand, has always been willing to negotiate on any element of our claim

without pre-conditions.

Why can’t the employers do the same?

As a result of this impasse, Equity members have been refusing to work

in all UK television commercials since September last year.

But in any event, is there any truth in the claim that the industry is

paying too much? The system of calculating repeat fees, which is now

under attack, was introduced in 1991 at the industry’s insistence. If

there has been any escalation of costs in voiceover fees since 1991 -

and we have seen little evidence of it - it can only be because of

individual negotiations freely entered into by agencies when contracting


It certainly has not resulted from the Equity minimum basic studio fee

of pounds 79.90 and the use-fees which stem from it. If there is a

problem, then it is entirely of the industry’s making and should not be

used to attack the basic protections provided for in the Equity


Industry insiders calculate that the fees paid to all the actors in an

average television campaign make up between 1 and 3 per cent of the

media budget. Fees going to voiceover artists make up less than half of

1 per cent. Employing professional performers in UK commercials is

extremely cost-effective. It is certainly cheaper than animation or

shooting the ads abroad - two methods the industry is trying to use to

avert the effects of this dispute.

The advertising industry is highly successful. Equity members make a

crucial contribution to this success - it is, after all, their voices

and their performances that have been so effective in selling the

advertisers’ products.

Our members want to continue to contribute to that success, but it

appears that the industry’s negotiating team is prepared to risk

long-term damage to the industry by its stubborn refusal even to try to

find a mutually acceptable solution by negotiation.

Surely we are not alone in wanting to get back to making high-quality,

highly successful award-winning commercials.