(KRON) — As writers and actors continue to strike in demand for fair pay, streaming giants are investing their money into artificial intelligence, and Los Gatos-based company Netflix is leading the way.
Though the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers has failed to meet demands from Writers Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild, Netflix’s company leadership appears to be hedging its bets and going all in on AI efforts.
A Research Scientist in Machine Learning role at Netflix will work on building up the company’s technical capabilities by diving deep and exploring research questions aligned with the biggest challenges at Netflix, and the annual compensation is between $390,000 – $900,000.
One of the biggest complaints of the WGA and SAG members is the low pay structure that exists for writers and actors who create streaming content. Companies can stream the content in perpetuity without the traditional residual structure that kept most working writers and actors fed.
WGA and SAG members want guarantees from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers that AI will not replace their jobs. SAG member and strike captain Iris Liu says that the job posting only highlights how much Netflix continues to put profits over people.
Liu isn’t surprised at the high rate of pay, or the tech company’s dive into AI, as she’s come to expect it from large corporations since the strike began. However, she highlighted how different the lived reality is for a working actor.
“87% of actors in our union don’t even make the $27,000 annually (before taxes and commissions) it takes to qualify for health insurance,” Liu told KRON4.
The compensation in the job posting is “over 33x the healthcare qualification minimum,” for a working actor, Liu said. “We have second and third jobs, side hustles, are on unemployment and food stamps,” she said. Keep in mind, once an actor earns $27,000 from acting jobs they will qualify for health insurance, but they will still have to pay for it completely out of pocket.
On a Quarterly Earnings call with investors last week, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said the company had hoped to reach a deal before the strikes ever began.
“I was raised in a union household…” Sarandos said. “We’re super committed
to getting to an agreement as soon as possible. One that’s equitable and one that enables the industry and everybody in it to move forward into the future.”
When asked about concerns that Netflix will run out of content at some point, particularly in light of the strikes, Sarandos sidestepped the question.
“We produce heavily across all kinds of content, TV, film, unscripted, scripted, local, domestic, English, non-English, all those things. And they’re all true, but it’s besides the point. The real point is we need to get to this strike to a conclusion so that we can all move forward,”
Netflix isn’t alone in diving into AI headfirst. HBO is also investing a good chunk of change into their machine learning efforts. A Senior Machine Learning Engineer role currently open at HBO parent company Warner Brothers has an annual salary ranging from $132,300.00 – $245,700.00, according to the job posting.
Another tech giant which the WGA took aim at in their strike is Apple. Apple TV has one of the smallest libraries of any streaming service, so the company is particularly vulnerable to the writer and actor strikes. Apple is currently hiring a Senior Software Engineer with machine learning experience too. The base salary for that role is between $138,900 and $256,500.
Though the producer’s union has not come close to making a deal yet, Liu believes in the SAG and WGA efforts. “I have tremendous confidence in our ability to win a fair deal – and hopefully, other studios especially those not backed by tech money, will begin to realize they are better off coming back to the table ready to negotiate,” Liu said.
KRON4 reached out to Netflix in regards to the job posting, but the company chose not to comment. Netflix shared a statement from the producer’s union in response:
“The current WGA Agreement already defines a ‘writer’ to exclude any ‘corporate or impersonal purveyor’ of literary material, meaning that only a ‘person’ can be considered a writer and enjoy the terms and conditions of the Basic Agreement. For example, AI-generated material would not be eligible for writing credit,” the statement from AMPTP said.
Writers say these protections simply aren’t enough. Though AI-generated material is not eligible for writing credit under the agreement, that does not stop streaming companies from using AI to generate new material.