Film and television studios are trying to hire people with expertise in artificial intelligence, even as their writers and actors are out on strike citing the industry’s plans for AI and other concerns.
Six entertainment companies, including Disney, Netflix, Sony and NBCUniversal, have been advertising for at least 26 positions related to AI in recent weeks, according to an NBC News search of online job listings. The companies are looking to pay many of the potential software developers more than $200,000 a year and, in some cases, far more, the job listings say. (NBCUniversal is the parent company of NBC News.)
Streaming giant Netflix has been advertising 18 positions related to AI or machine learning, according to a search of the company’s jobs site. One of the positions would pay as much as $1 million to develop video games based on recent advances in AI, the ad says. The company jobs page doesn’t say how long the positions have been listed.
A search of job sites turned up eight AI-related open positions at more traditional, establishment media companies.
Two major unions, representing actors and writers, are on strike after contract negotiations with the studios broke down on an array of issues, including pay and the use of AI.
The 26 AI-related job openings seen by NBC News vary widely in how much they relate to creating content, which has been a primary anxiety in discussions of how AI will affect the livelihood of creative professionals. Some of the openings are focused on the back end of certain products, such as using AI to personalize search results, while other positions are more directly about content generation or supporting others who might do content generation.
Even for AI jobs not directly related to creating content, the job openings are one indication of where production companies are putting their resources. As streamers and creative companies are facing a labor crisis, they’re actively seeking AI specialists — and they’re willing to pay high salaries for them.
Many of the job openings refer to duties such as building an AI platform or innovation lab, suggesting that the companies are building for the long term rather than seeking an immediate alternative to striking workers.
The use of AI to generate content is a major sticking point for striking writers and performers. Union leaders say that AI-generated digital actors threaten to one day take work from their members, with some creators including Sarah Silverman already claiming in lawsuits that tech companies are using their words or likeness to train AI replacements.
Fran Drescher, president of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, has called AI “poison.”
“When you have a combination of Wall Street, greed, technology, whiz kids that I am not seeing exemplify a great deal of empathy — it’s a deadly cocktail, in my opinion, and I don’t want us to have to drink that poison anymore,” she said in a July 28 episode of the guild’s podcast.
“Everybody’s watching dystopia series as entertainment, while my members are living it,” Drescher said.
In contract negotiations, SAG-AFTRA is asking for compensation for performers who contribute to AI products and for AI companies to seek consent beforehand.
The broadcasting company Sinclair is looking for someone to head its AI content efforts. Best known for conservative-leaning local news, Sinclair also has other media holdings and says it needs a director of AI for its innovation lab. Though the company is based in suburban Baltimore, the job would be in Los Angeles, according to the listing.
“You will be at the helm of the development and implementation of generative AI solutions throughout our organization,” the ad says. The base salary is listed as up to $175,000 a year.
Generative AI involves creating content and it has taken off in the past year, thanks to the viral success of apps like image generators, such as DALL·E 2, and chatbots, like ChatGPT. Some analysts believe that generative AI has only begun to shape the entertainment industry and how people spend their leisure time.
A spokesperson for Sinclair said no one was immediately available for an interview or comment.
A spokesperson for the Writers Guild of America West, which represents striking Hollywood writers, declined to comment on the AI job openings. SAG-AFTRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The news site The Intercept reported last month that Netflix was offering as much as $900,000 a year for a single AI product manager. The job would involve overseeing an internal platform used by its AI software developers, according to an archived copy of the job ad.
Another position for an engineering manager at Netflix would pay up to $900,000 a year for overseeing how the service uses AI to keep customers happy, the ad says.
“Machine Learning/Artificial Intelligence powers numerous aspects of the Consumer Experience, including innovation in content discovery and personalization for members, identifying and attracting new members to our product, optimizing our payment processing, and many more,” according to the listing.
Other Netflix positions included ones in which potential hires will use machine learning to personalize viewers’ recommendations, or to support back end cloud-computing technology.
“We free Netflix engineers from the complexity of modern software development, allowing them to focus on creating world-class entertainment,” says one ad for a director of Netflix’s internal engineering platform. The listing says total compensation for the role would typically be between $330,000 and $1.8 million, the highest pay among all the AI ads that NBC News found.
A spokesperson for Netflix, which is based near San Jose, California, declined to comment except to point to a statement in May from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, an industry trade group for studios. (NBCUniversal is a member of the alliance.)
The industry group said at the time: “AI raises hard, important creative and legal questions for everyone. For example, writers want to be able to use this technology as part of their creative process, without changing how credits are determined, which is complicated given AI material can’t be copyrighted. So it’s something that requires a lot more discussion, which we’ve committed to doing.”
Hollywood studios have been circumspect about their strategies related to generative AI. Disney CEO Bob Iger has spoken about using AI to create efficiencies and called the technology disruptive but has not given details.
Actor Bryan Cranston said he had “a message for Mr. Iger” at a rally in New York last month when the "Breaking Bad" star vowed, “We will not be having our jobs taken away and given to robots.”
Disney has been advertising for four AI-related jobs, according to the listings. They include a senior manager for machine learning engineering based in San Francisco, leading a team “to build state of the art event-driven real-time ML ecosystem;” a senior vice president for post-production and innovation with responsibilities that include being “on the leading edge of technology developments, like Artificial Intelligence;” a San Francisco-based machine learning engineer, and a data scientist in Santa Monica, California, working on machine learning and advertising.
Overall, Disney and its subsidiaries listed 367 technology-related job openings on LinkedIn, according to a search of the site Monday.
Disney did not respond to requests for comment on the job openings.
Sony is hiring for a senior research scientist and manager to focus on AI ethics in its Sony AI division. That division was established in 2020 and, according to the job ad, it’s a “research organization pursuing the mission to use AI to unleash human creativity,” working closely with other company divisions, including film studio Sony Pictures.
“Sony has many real-world AI applications at the intersection of entertainment and technology, and we are looking for smart, enthusiastic people who want to research, develop and deploy techniques for FTA,” the ad says. FTA refers to fairness, transparency and accountability, three areas that Sony says it wants to research.
A Sony spokesperson said in an email: “This is not a job with the entertainment company. Sony AI, which was established 3 years ago, is run out of our corporate headquarters in Japan. The AI Ethics Office operates within Sony AI.”
NBCUniversal has advertised for a vice president in charge of product, personalization and search. The responsibilities listed include using machine learning to build recommendation and personalization systems.
A spokesperson for NBCUniversal said the role is focused on honing customer recommendations and has no connection to the creation of content.
Warner Bros. Discovery had one listing for an AI-related position: a senior software engineer based in San Francisco to work on AI-driven recommendations and personalization features for Max, the app formerly known as HBO Max.
A spokesperson for Warner Bros. Discovery declined to comment.