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Friday, January 17, 2014

Royalties Are Dead - Long Live The Worldwide Buyout

A few years ago we used to talk about royalties. Those days are long gone (apart from celebrities who can demand huge repeat fees), so what has replaced these lucrative payments for jobbing voice actors? 

First a quick history lesson. Back in the good (or bad depending on your point of view) old days, the union Equity had a tight grip on pricing for TV commercials, indeed its ratecard for radio ads is often still used as a template for stations and talents alike. Then during the 1990s things started to change...... radically. Here in the UK the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) wanted to have more freedom on who they booked for a voice over and on the prices they paid. 

The closed shop nature of Equity was regarded as being highly restrictive by the IPA and the Conservative government of the time. There was a desire to liberalise the British TV advertising market, partly because new channels were coming on stream and also because sky high fees were being earned by a very small number of voice over artists. There were rumours of voice actors raking in tens of thousands of pounds for a single campaign; in addition the ad agencies were finding it difficult (if not impossible) to hire fresh talent. They wanted the choice and freedom that restrictive practices were preventing and most in the the industry knew things had to change.


There followed a protracted dispute between Equity and the advertising paymasters in which talents were advised not to accept new terms and conditions. Previously royalties were paid to voice actors every time an advert was shown and the larger the audience the bigger the fee. If you were lucky enough to voice a commercial and it was shown in peak time during a high rated show such as Coronation Street, the earnings would be much higher than if it was shown during the early hours of the morning.

Now the advertising agencies wanted a single payment - a 'buyout' that would cover unlimited transmissions. As a concession there would be a timeframe reflected in a 'usage' fee and there would also be a basic session fee (or studio time rate) termed a BSF. With the increasing number of channels this allowed the clients to control prices effectively especially as it was getting expensive to track transmissions on smaller channels and keep tabs on local opt outs.


The result of this dispute was a weakened Equity (which from a union point of view was the start of  much soul searching) and emboldened ad agencies. The good news for voice over artists in Britain was that newcomers who weren't Equity members could now enter the previously rarefied world of TV commercials. Fast forward to today and the market has opened up substantially allowing even relative beginners to audition for prestigious brands.

You do not need to be an Equity member to do voice overs in the twenty first century, but you do need to be aware of what you can and can't charge for.

What This Means For You

So when you record a broadcast voice over, especially a commercial, look out for the BSF (typically £200) plus the buyout fee. Make sure you are happy with the usage length and where it will be broadcast. A buyout 'in perpetuity' cannot be renegotiated, but a finite amount of time (eg two years) can. A local ad will pay substantially less than one that is transmitted across the national network. Clarity is the key.

Also consider whether web audio content or even a training video on YouTube should attract a buyout payment; this can be a powerful bargaining tool when you are negotiating your voice over fee.

Gary Terzza

Gary Terzza is a voice over coach based in London, England

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