Netflix Reviewed Its TV Star Salaries After 'Crown' Pay Gap Controversy

"What it did for us was it had us go back and look at all of our productions — and all of our productions that were being run by third parties — and make sure that none of those disparities existed," Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos said.
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Netflix's Ted Sarandos

The pay gap on The Crown caused Netflix to make some changes. 

After it was revealed that Claire Foy made less than co-star Matt Smith on the Queen Elizabeth-centric show, Netflix looked at other shows and made some adjustments to salaries on other shows, content chief Ted Sarandos revealed Friday. 

Last year during a conference, The Crown producers revealed that Foy made less than Smith, even though she portrays Queen Elizabeth in the show. The reason given was that Smith had previously spent three seasons starring in Doctor Who and Foy came into her role with less experience. But Suzanne Mackie, creative director at The Crown producer Left Bank noted, "Going forward, no one gets paid more than the Queen." 

During a talk with USC Annenberg dean Willow Bay at the Makers Conference in Dana Point, Calif., Sarandos spoke openly about the importance of paying employees and stars fairly regardless of their gender. The situation with The Crown, he noted, didn't start with Netflix, which licensed the show instead of producing it in-house, but he did say it prompted the streamer to look for pay disparity in its other shows.

"I can't comment on her salary, obviously. I wasn't in charge of it," Sarandos said. "But in general there was a disparity. What it did for us was it had us go back and look at all of our productions — and all of our productions that were being run by third parties — and make sure that none of those disparities existed."

The pay issue on The Crown, he noted, "pointed to a bigger problem" and there were a couple of other salaries that the company was able to adjust as a result. 

He went on to describe that in the process of hiring an executive earlier in his career, he discovered that she came in with a lower salary history than the male candidates he was considering for the role. After he hired her, he boosted her salary, telling her, "It's an incredibly unfair position you're in just based on your previous history" that her salary had been lower than other candidates. 

Netflix ranked tenth in a 2017 DGA report on diversity in directors for episodic television. Sarandos acknowledged that it was "not good enough" and pointed to recent shows like Russian Doll and Glow that have predominantly female directors. When asked why Netflix had not signed the TimesUp's 4 percent challenge that encourages filmmakers to work with a female director in the next 18 months, he answered, "I completely agree with the goal." Then he added that he wants Netflix to be "in a constant state of improvement." 

Sarandos started his talk with Bay by saying that Netflix is committed to having women at all levels of the company, explaining that the company's board of directors is one-third female and that his own direct report team is over 60 percent female. As someone who grew up in a predominantly female household, he noted, "I never really understood the concept of why you wouldn't surround yourself with incredibly powerful women."