Netflix offers up to $900,000 for AI product manager while actors strike for protection

That could pay for 35 humans and their families' health insurance, says human

Striking Hollywood writers and actors will be delighted to learn that Netflix, one of the powers perceived to be upending the entertainment industry, is advertising for an AI product manager with a salary up to $900,000.

There are a couple of reasons why TV and film creatives are kicking up a stink right now. Writers have been staging protests since May over poor pay and a fear of AI tech being used to make them obsolete. Then the Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) joined the strike this month, the first time in 60 years both actors and writers have taken action this way.

SAG-AFTRA says that 87 percent of its membership, the actors you never hear about, earn less than $26,000 a year, and streaming services like Prime, Netflix, Disney etc. get away with paying much less in "residuals" – royalties earned from repeat broadcasts of films or TV shows.

But there's another issue concerning the industry, and that's the "groundbreaking AI proposal" from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents major studios and streamers, including Netflix.

That proposal is to protect "performers' digital likenesses, including a requirement for performer's consent for the creation and use of digital replicas or for digital alterations of a performance." This was offered as an olive branch to actors worried about the potential for AI to essentially steal their likenesses – ironically something that happens to Salma Hayek in the Black Mirror episode "Joan is Awful", where a spoof of Netflix casts her as the eponymous character in a show based on the "real" Joan's life, much to their horror (both inadvertently allowed it to happen because they didn't read the streamer's Ts&Cs).

Not only is the proposal somewhat indicative that this is something Hollywood money men have considered doing as AI develops at breakneck speed (Charlie Brooker really has to stop giving the rich and powerful terrible ideas), but it has some basis in reality too.

James Earl Jones, who voiced Darth Vader, has basically signed off on having his voice recreated by AI so Lucasfilm and Disney can keep flogging his Star Wars character even at the age of 91 and long after he has shuffled off this mortal coil.

Likewise, AI has been used to produce really quite convincing younger versions of actors – Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker in The Mandalorian and Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones in the franchise's latest (and hopefully last) outing. Once a production company has that likeness and animation data, who's to really stop them making a film "starring" any one of these people, with or without consent? Even extras could be written out of existence this way.

fran drescher

Producers allegedly sought rights to replicate extras using AI, forever, for just $200


In another move widely slated by the square-eyed crowd, Secret Invasion, a new Marvel property showing on Disney+, boasts an intro sequence generated by AI. Artists fumed that it was ripping off others' work and depriving professionals of income, but the shape-shifting animation style typical to wonky AI effects was said to fit the identity of the show, which is about aliens that can take other forms to hide among Earth's populace.

How very convenient.

Method Studios, which created the sequence, insisted that "no artists' jobs were replaced by incorporating these new tools" and that they were seeking an "otherworldly and alien look" achieved through a "custom AI tool."

Still, it could be argued that the show, which came out in June, is a little tone deaf with its timing to start rolling out wholesale AI-generated segments when this is exactly the kind of stuff writers and actors are complaining about. Also, a lot of people just hated the fact that AI was involved at all.

But it's nothing next to Streamberry Netflix waving six figures about for someone to guide its AI strategy.

The job listing is vague and open to interpretation. It seeks someone with "a technical background in engineering and/or machine learning" – Netflix is not explicitly saying "we want someone to help us produce AI-generated films and TV shows without the need for treacherous actors and writers who are brazen enough to require food and shelter."

After all, in this era of generative AI hype, it seems many have forgotten that machine learning is a legit and old technology that helps these services build the recommendation algorithms that we supposedly rely on to decide what we'll watch on a given night.

And with places like OpenAI offering similar amounts of money for machine-learning scientists and engineers, Netflix has put together significant compensation packages to compete.

But the 'flix ad does say: "Artificial Intelligence is powering innovation in all areas of the business. From helping us buy and create great content [our emphasis], helping members choose the right title for them through personalization, to optimizing our payment processing and other revenue-focused initiatives."

Thus, a seed has been planted. Rob Delaney, who starred in "Joan is Awful," told The Intercept: "So $900k/yr per soldier in their godless AI army when that amount of earnings could qualify thirty-five actors and their families for SAG-AFTRA health insurance is just ghoulish. Having been poor and rich in this business, I can assure you there's enough money to go around; it's just about priorities."

But studios would be wise to reel in their expectations. This AI-generated South Park episode, while it nearly passes visually, just isn't right. ®

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