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New Media Red Flags: Voice Overs On
YouTube & Social Media Skirt 'Broadcast' Rates

May 8, 2015

Dave Courvoisier
Voice Actor & TV News Anchor

"Broadcast” (Radio & TV) compensation rates seemed set in stone for years. That’s because for decades there was relative stasis in the industry.  Broadcast was a cash cow that benefited most everyone involved…including freelance voice actors. 

Even though many voice actors back then (or now) were not union members, AFTRA expected its members to hold to the line on its published broadcast rates. 

It was a threshold of pay that still sets a standard today. Those familiar with the broadcast status quo understand the formula that goes into calculating rates for Radio and TV.  It includes length of play of the spot in the marketplace, size of the marketplace, type of spot, length of spot, and geographic distribution (those are the biggies…other criteria can come to bear). 

Again, that refers to BROADCAST rates. Radio and TV.


But today there's more to consider. The Internet. Mobile devices. Tablets. Smartphones. Cultural changes in the expectation of instantaneous delivery. Big bandwidth. Innovation and optic fiber.

Even the most successful broadcast operations have known for years that a big change is in process. The term "broadcast” now assumes a different complex - a different character (think NetFlix, Amazon Prime, Roku). 

While Radio and TV will likely survive the digital revolution better than most print publications, there’s no doubt the delivery mechanism for broadcast will have a new meaning going forward.

New masters will own the word, and they are NOT familiar with broadcast rates.


How does this impact voice overs? It probably means more opportunity.  Yet also, probably declining rates …unless.

At WoVOCon - the recent convention of the World-Voices Organization - a prescient Matt Cowlrick called an impromptu session to consider the changing landscape of new jobs being offered and the associated compensation rates. 

Cowlrick saw evidence in the verbiage appearing in the fine print on contracts, and noticed a disturbing trend. His misgivings have now infected an entire tribe of WoVO members and that’s why I’m bringing word to you too.

Interestingly, within days of WoVOCon, attendee and pro member Johnny George posted the real-world evidence in an online Facebook group. Here’s what he said:
Thank goodness Matt did a Breakout Session on RATES this past weekend at WoVOCon II. The YouTube snake has raised it’s head. Please read what a client sent me. What would you do?

"Attached is a script for a 90-second spot (not a hard 90), a 30-second spot (again, not a hard 30), and a 15-second spot (needs to be within 15-seconds). So there are three spots in total. Please let me know what the price will be for the three different spots. The 90 will be featured on the client’s website, and the 30-second and 15-second will be used as digital ads on Facebook & YouTube."

So, I told him I would have to discuss this since the business model for YouTube has changed with these videos being pre-rolled on any video that could get 100 or 1,000,000+ impressions and thus, more costly for usage. 

Recently another WoVO pro presented a conundrum over wording being offered in a contract that included the term "in perpetuity.” 

Because of Cowlrick’s session, he balked at signing the contract. He admitted it hurt, but also knew that we as freelance voice actors have to start bringing this to the attention of producers, agents, bookers and other clients. 

The time is now to stand ground.


YouTube is one of the red flags in this new world. 

Certainly you’ve noticed the "pre-rolls” that are attached to popular YT videos? Those are ads. They are seen by thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, maybe millions for a REALLY viral video.

That’s broadcast. That deserves a pay scale commensurate with broadcast rates of old. 

We have to tell them!


Be aware of distribution.
  • Ask questions - especially metrics about reach, viewership and exposure.
  • Where will your voice be heard?
  • Beware of open-ended wording that is murky about re-purposing your voice on one ad into another medium - beyond the original intent.
  • Keep an eye out for words like "image cycles” and "impressions.”
  • Promoted YT videos especially deserve scrutiny for possible (traditional) broadcast rates. Your invoice should include the phrase: "extra usage must be specified.”
  • Social Media (New Media) is just that: MEDIA. Don’t be fooled by the nomenclature!
I asked Matt to comment on this topic for this article. Here are his thoughts:
"Any use of the term 'in perpetuity' should be thoroughly investigated, to find out exactly how the client is planning on using the recording. These days, talent should clarify the usage for any work performed for Internet. The client may assume the rate covers any and all usage online, with no exceptions. If there is no discussion and contract or agreement established regarding internet, the voice talent is setting themselves up for a potential issue.  
"Yes, there will always be lower rates out there, but in the end we as business owners need to have an awareness of our worth. We should be educating ourselves on the current landscape of broadcast rates and juxtapose that against the way media is being used online.

"Consider time periods (13 weeks, 1 year) and exposure/impressions (estimated 25,000 or 10,000,000 reach). We shouldn’t be afraid to start a dialogue with our prospects or clients and educate THEM.  

"I would be concerned with "status quo” pricing in any case where the client is paying for "clicks” or ad time online.

"I think now more than ever, it’s important to say something to the effect of, "can you tell me a little more about how this video/spot/recording is being used?”  

"If the client says, "I don’t know” or "we don’t have that info” - THAT would be a red flag for me."

It’s not all bad. Many producers are onto this change. They can be fair-minded, but some are not thinking in the terms WE think. 

We have to open the dialog. Raise the question. Show the logic.

Matt offers this addendum:
"The promising thing is that talent have already had discussions with producers/clients and the other side of the glass is receptive and appreciative of the conversation.

"It’s important to know that there will always be buyers who want to work with professional, top level talent and will be willing to pay them what they are worth.

"The negotiations and education may take time and not always be easy, but I have no doubt there will be support from those who hire us.”
Thank you, Matt, for raising the issue, for sharing your cautionary tale. 

Thank you, Johnny, for explaining your predicament. 

And thanks to anyone willing to stand ground, have a conversation, recognize their worth. 

Now go broadcast your new-found wisdom to your VO peers!
Dave Courvoisier is an Emmy Award-winning broadcaster, writer, producer, voice actor, and the main weeknight news anchor on KLAS-TV, Channel 8, the Las Vegas CBS affiliate. He also writes Voice-Acting in Vegas, a daily blog of voice over adventures, observations and technology, and is author and publisher of the book, More Than Just A Voice: The Real Secret To VoiceOver Success.

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Comments (2)
Bobbin Beam
5/8/2015 at 10:37 AM
Excellent article Dave. And the concerns are real. I'm certain the conversations about usage and repurposing of the voice on these newer platforms are also happening at the union level as well. And thank to our WoVo team for bringing up the trend to the attention of more new people to the voiceover business. The times they are a changin', and faster than ever.
Jennifer Knight
5/8/2015 at 9:30 AM
This is a really important conversation. Thanks to all who participated in this article!
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