The team at StarNow are lucky enough to regularly meet with a wide range of industry creatives from all around the world. We get to chat to advertising agencies, producers, casting companies, brands, retailers and more, and there is one thing they're all talking about right now – how do we deal with usage?
It's a tough topic, because usage used to be very straightforward to calculate. These days, it's becoming more and more difficult as the industry is rapidly changing, and it looks like everyone is struggling to work out what’s fair. Here's our take on what's going on.
First of all = what's Usage? For anyone who isn't familiar with this term, Usage is the name given to payments that talent receive for commercial work (e.g. Advertising/ TV commercials) for it to be used for a certain period of time and shown on various platforms (e.g. Broadcast TV). This payment is in addition to the fee talent receive for the actual work they performed on the day – so basically, it's extra money that an advertiser pays for the 'use' of the final shot material. The way these fees were traditionally calculated, was based on the estimated size of the audience who will see the finished work and as a rule of thumb, the bigger the audience, and the more featured the talent, the bigger the usage fees.
The context we are working in: Disruption of traditional advertising The advertising industry has faced major digital disruption worldwide in the last few years, due to the rapidly changing ways that we consume media and advertising, particularly online. Commercials are now screened in myriad of ways we never would have dreamed of five years ago, and users have far more control over how they view them. Online platforms provide ad blockers, watching time-shifted TV means you can fast-forward ads, and streaming services are often ad free. It's become harder and harder for advertisers to reach their audience and that audience is quickly moving away from the traditional heavyweights of advertising spend like broadcast TV. The rise of influencer marketing and user-generated content is also affecting how brands see usage and traditional arrangements with talent.
Advertising budgets that previously targeted a few keys platforms are now being stretched across a multitude of formats. This puts enormous pressure on producers who are being asked to do more with less, and unfortunately advertising budgets haven't increased, and in fact have been lower since the global financial crisis a decade ago. It's tough out there for the Mad Men.
The affect of disruption on usage Given the wide range of ways commercials are screened now, and the huge volume of content being made, the exposure from one project simply isn't what it was when there were fewer methods of distribution and less competing material. It's difficult to determine audience size and in some cases, industry expectations and guidelines for what "online" usage should be haven't kept pace with the rapidly evolving industry. The exposure from one advertisement – even broadcast TV advertisements simply isn't what it was ten years, or even five years ago.
We spend a lot of time speaking with advertisers, agencies and production companies, and currently they are tearing their hair out over how to calculate usage and how to make their budgets work to match industry expectations, as well as making sure talent are fairly compensated. Many have told us it's the single biggest issue they currently face when it comes to casting.
There is a great deal of confusion and conflicting opinions about what the way forward is, and it's clear that the industry hasn't yet determined how expectations around usage for both advertisers and talent should adapt to the new context we are working in. Commercial work is undergoing massive disruption at the moment, so we cannot reasonably expect that we will all continue to do things in the way we have always done, but the future and how we get there isn't obvious either.
StarNow’s position on usage StarNow is a listing service, so we don't set usage rates on listings, though our site and others like it give visibility to an industry-wide trend caused by multiple and fundamental changes in the way the industry operates. Ultimately, it's up to the advertiser (the brand or company who is paying for the work) to set usage based on their project and budget, and it's up to the talent (or an agent on their behalf) to decide whether or not this amount is acceptable.
While we do our best to educate members on best practise and expect them to follow legal minimum wage requirements in their area, we don't set or enforce rates – just as sites like Seek do not set or enforce market salaries.
As a site where information about opportunities is highly visible, we're often the first place you can spot a trend developing – we aim to keep that transparency going and play our part in helping the industry work out the best way forward for everyone, to make great work and to be paid fairly for it. We'll keep encouraging casting professionals to educate themselves on industry standards, trends and what's appropriate, and we are always open to hearing concerns our members have about a particular listing.
For more info about usage, rollovers, and buyouts check out our blog.
Good luck with your auditions!