Twitch streamers, Instagram influencers, and TikTokers just got a potentially very powerful ally: The Screen Actors Guild—American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, aka SAG-AFTRA, one of the most powerful unions in Hollywood. Soon, influencers who create branded content will be able to qualify for union benefits.
Speaking to Backstage, a SAG-AFTRA rep explained that the new agreement will officially designate “influencer-generated branded content” as advertising, which means influencers who create it will qualify for opportunities to earn union income, as well as health and pension benefits. Notably, this will only extend to video ads—not still images—but videos can be as brief as an Instagram story or a TikTok. The content also must be posted to a creator’s social media channels, so appearing in commercials for a company does not fall under the terms of this agreement (SAG-AFTRA has a separate agreement for commercials).
Previously, SAG-AFTRA extended protections to some YouTubers’ brand deals, but the new agreement will cover basically every platform: Twitch, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and so on. In a statement to Backstage, SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris said the goal is to “support both current and future SAG-AFTRA members in this space and for them to be able to access the benefits of union coverage.”
On one hand, this represents a big step toward content creators unionizing, which would be an unequivocally good thing, given the grueling work schedules platforms subtly pressure them into, as well as the numerous agencies, firms, and groups looking to take advantage of them. Imagine the impact, say, a top streamer strike could have on Twitch, which has recently seemed determined to make mystifying, streamer-unfriendly decisions despite vocal opposition. Oh, and healthcare is good! Everyone should have it!
On the other hand, some in and around the Influence-O-Sphere have already expressed skepticism, noting, among other things, that SAG-AFTRA health support has not historically been super great, and the union also places limits on which production companies members can work with—which could be especially problematic for content creators, given that they operate in a very different space than Hollywood stars. Some creators are worried about hypothetical situations in which, say, they want to collaborate with a particular YouTuber or streamer, only to find out that they’re not union-affiliated, putting the kibosh on the whole arrangement. And of course, union members have to pay dues, which may represent a high barrier to entry for smaller creators who are already working day jobs to make ends meet.
All that said, SAG-AFTRA has not provided exact details on these fronts, meaning that most concerns are speculation at this point. The union intends to provide more details “at a future date.”