ITV & Equity Progressing On Landmark Deal For Soap Actors That Would Include AI Provisions For The First Time

EXCLUSIVE: ITV is progressing on a landmark deal with British actors union Equity that would, for the first time, include provisions for AI and cloning on the likes of Coronation Street and Emmerdale.

Unions in the U.S. fighting tooth and nail for AI rights will likely be paying close attention and we understand ITV and Equity negotiators are sitting down tomorrow to focus on this specific part of the union’s claim.

Furthermore, Deadline understands that these same AI provisions have been tabled for Equity’s upcoming negotiations with the BBC and UK producer trade body Pact, which govern the vast majority of TV series in the UK.

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When they sit down together tomorrow, negotiators from ITV and Equity will discuss AI claims and what is known as synthesisation, the potential for actors’ faces to be cloned and used in other shows, thereby leading to less work for performers. The issue was brought to the fore in the recent Joan is Awful episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, which has felt a little too close to home for some in the TV and film community.

ITV and Equity sources stressed that the deal is still a way from being signed off for use in contractual arrangements.

A recent Equity AI toolkit flagged the issue of synthesisation as a key priority to protect actors in the future. It provided a template AI contract to protect artists engaging with performance cloning work, along with template clauses to protect artists from having their performance cloned without their consent.

UK broadcasters have so far tinkered round the edges with cloning, employing deepfakes rather than more technologically-advanced AI. Regulator Ofcom recently told broadcasters to “consider carefully” whether they need to update their compliance procedures to account for the risks involved with deepfake content. This followed shows such as ITVX’s Deep Fake Neighbour Wars, which used deepfakes of the likes of Kim Kardashian, Idris Elba and Greta Thunberg to create comedy impression sketches, along with BBC Two documentary I’m an Alcoholic: Inside Recovery, which employed superimposed deepfakes over the top of its contributors to protect their anonymity.

Equity’s negotiations with ITV over soaps produced by the broadcaster’s in-house studios division are further along than the BBC and Pact talks and should complete by the end of this year, we understand, allowing them to act as a blueprint for the BBC and Pact talks, which will likely go into 2024.

Speaking alongside U.S. actors union SAG-AFTRA’s chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland last month, Equity General Secretary Paul Fleming said it is the “duty of unions to make sure members are educated about their rights” regarding AI.

An ITV spokeswoman said: “We’re having ongoing positive and constructive discussions around this issue with Equity. However, nothing has been finalised or signed off for inclusion in any contractual agreements.” Equity hadn’t responded to requests for comment by press time.

Beyond AI

Beyond AI, negotiations with ITV are complex but progressing, Deadline hears, with significant revision, improvements and modernisation being made to agreements that have not been updated for a number of years.

These contractual agreements govern areas such as pay, working conditions and compensation, topics that resonate with the goals of the WGA and SAG in the U.S. Along with AI provisions, Equity is demanding a 15% rise in basic pay as well as reporting provisions around secondary payments, akin to the U.S. unions’ demand for streaming residuals.

Equity’s Fleming has previously said that the union could be headed towards its own industrial dispute with Pact, which represents hundreds of UK production companies, if negotiations don’t bear fruit.

The strikes have hit the UK industry hard, contributing to a broader slowdown and less opportunity for freelancers. A petition calling on the government to financially support TV and film crew unable to work due to the strikes has so far amassed nearly 30,000 signatures.

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