Yesterday, the discovery of a Netflix position for an AI product manager with a maximum salary of $900,000 sent critics of the company and the entertainment industry into a frenzy.
This is not the only listing of this type, nor is it likely the most lucrative. No one should be astonished that one of the world’s largest tech companies pays top dollar for machine learning talent, but that doesn’t mean striking writers and actors shouldn’t point out the hypocrisy on display.
What are these occupations, then? In addition to the overall product manager role, there are five other roles with machine learning responsibilities, and presumably more if you examine the requirements and responsibilities of others.
An engineering manager in member satisfaction ML (likely their recommendation engine) could earn up to $849,000. However, the “market range” begins at $450,000. This is where the discussion begins! An ML L6 research scientist could earn between $390,000 and $900,000, while the technical director of their ML R&D tech facility would earn between $450,000 and $650,000. Some L5 software engineer and research scientist positions are available for salaries between $100,000 and $70,000.
A fast comparison was made to the average SAG member, who earns less than $30,000 per year from acting. On the surface, Netflix’s payment of $500,000 to its AI researchers so that they can completely replace actors and writers is the type of Evil Corporation action we have all come to expect. But that is not exactly the case here.
While I have no doubt that Netflix is exploiting its talent in numerous ways, just like every other major studio, streaming platform, and production company, it is crucial for those on the side of labor to ensure that their complaints are well-founded; otherwise, they will be ignored at the bargaining table.
Netflix is one of the largest and most successful technology companies in the world. Having its name listed in the power acronym FAANG and alongside megastudios such as Disney and Universal is a novelty, but it also means that it must fulfill two sets of responsibilities.
As a technology company, Netflix, like every other business on the planet, investigates the capabilities of AI. As you may have surmised from the billions of dollars being invested in this sector, it is promising in many ways unrelated to the controversial generative models for art, voice, and writing, which have largely failed to demonstrate real value.
The majority of businesses continue to be extremely skeptical of generative AI for a variety of reasons, despite the fact that they are investigating these topics as well. If you peruse the actual job descriptions, you’ll notice that none of them involve content creation.
-You will lead requirements, design, and implementation of Metaflow product improvements…
-You will lead a team of experts in these techniques to understand how members experience titles, and how that changes their long-term assessment of their satisfaction with the Netflix service.
-…incubate and prototype concepts with the intent to eventually build a complete team to ship something new that could change the games industry and reach player audiences in new ways, as well as influencing adoption of AI technologies and tooling that are likely to level up our practices.
-…we are venturing further into exciting new innovations in personalization, discovery, experimentation, backend operations, and more, all driven by research at the frontiers of ML
-…Collect feedback and understand user needs from ML/AI practitioners and application engineers across Netflix, deriving product requirements and sizing their importance to then prioritize areas of investment.
-We are looking for an Applied Machine Learning Scientist to develop algorithms that power high quality localization at scale…
The final one is presumably a result of generative dubbing or enhanced subtitle translation. And this does not preclude Netflix from working on generative content. However, these are the genuine jobs being advertised, and the majority of them are generic. “We want to determine how AI can be used to make things better and more efficient.”
Our regular research summary demonstrates the wide range of domains in which AI is applicable. A few weeks ago, it assisted in the discovery of novel Nasca lines! However, it is also utilized in image processing, noise reduction, motion capture, network traffic flow, and data center power monitoring, all of which are applicable to a business like Netflix.
Any organization of this scale that does not invest hundreds of millions of dollars in AI research will be left behind. If Disney or Max creates a compression algorithm that halves the bandwidth required for high-quality 4K video or uncovers the recommendation code, that would be a tremendous advantage.
Why, then, am I defending a multinational corporation that should obviously pay its writers and actors more?
Because if the unions and their supporters are going to criticize Netflix, as they should given the deplorable state of residuals and IP ownership, they cannot base their indignation on industry standard practices that are essential for the success of a tech company in the modern era.
We are not obligated to approve of the fact that AI researchers are paid $500,000 while an actress from a successful show from a few years ago receives $35. However, this aspect of Netflix’s inequality is, in all honesty, beyond their control.
They are performing their duties there. Ask about it. Those with significant experience in machine learning and business management are currently among the most sought-after individuals on the planet. Yes, their salaries are exorbitantly exaggerated; they are currently the A-listers of technology, and this is their moment.
The issue is that by demonstrating its ability to do what is required in one area, Netflix draws attention to its inability to do what is required in another, namely in support of creators, whose relationship with distribution platforms must be rewritten from the beginning.
Extremely real is the possibility of creators defecting to another streaming platform. The next independent horror blockbuster is likely already in production with A24 rather than one of the major studios, as A24 granted the union’s every request. Someone’s absence resulted in a $50,000,000 deficiency in the debit column.
Let’s get angry about inequity, but for this fury to be effective, it must be grounded in reality and directed appropriately. The issue is Netflix’s (and every other company doing this; probably all of them) hypocrisy in paying some people what they’re worth while paying others as little as possible. This is a deliberate choice, and hopefully, the creators of the strike can assure that it will no longer be possible in the future.