“The rise of AI is an existential threat for media companies.”
“The rise of AI is a disruptive opportunity for media companies greater than the Internet itself.”
I overheard both statements in the last week. How can both be true at the same time?
While I may not be able to square that circle, I do know that DCN has spent the last decade focused on the future and not shying away from difficult questions like these. And, for the past six months or more, we have been among those immersed in the impending upheaval and unprecedented opportunity heralded by everyone from AI doomsayers to evangelists.
While the questions about the future of AI in the media are far from answered, there are a few plainly obvious truths emerging as we explore the full potential of AI.
The Large Language Model (LLM) data sets on which generative AI is being trained have been built upon what may well be the most extensive violation of copyright in history. The power and promise of AI to reshape industries is rooted in intellectual property that is a necessary ingredient in the equation. That bad math, that bad faith, must be recalculated and recalibrated in order for AI to evolve in a way that aligns with the true spirit of this extraordinary innovation.
Many challenges of the last decade remain constant in the AI era. Market power and abuse is a profound problem. It would be naive to rely on the generosity of trillion-dollar companies to silo negotiations to train tech companies’ large language models from the impact and the needs of the whole of the media business.
Consider the way in which Google has historically argued that it doesn’t detract from media sites’ revenue because it drives traffic to them. On the contrary, it is well understood that “search results” have become overwhelmed with advertising and offer “snippets” (scraped and trained by publishers’ sites) that often satisfy the user without having to click through. Generative AI takes this so much further, by allowing the search engine to compile information from a multitude of sites—without necessarily crediting any of them, much less driving traffic.
Privacy concerns around LLMs need more attention. Somehow the excitement and ready access to real-time output has swept this under the rug. Recent history should have taught us better.
Clearview AI, infamous for scraping billions of images across the internet without consent to fuel facial recognition, is the subject of a new book, Your Face Belongs to Us. And we learned in unsealed court docs earlier this year that Facebook used data brokers to train its machines to microtarget ads when they were forced to stop buying data outright. LLMs create a deep new well of data that is being opaquely collected and that will inevitably be exploited in ways consumers would not expect—or approve of.
Generative AI will increasingly be used for storytelling, whether in the fields of news or entertainment. However, responsible and successful media organizations recognize its limitations and human hands will still shape the creative output of these tools. As long as this storytelling involves humans at any point in the creative process, this content will require protection under the law. Otherwise, the devaluation of creativity and truth will be inevitable.
The sustainability of the free press is an essential ingredient for democracy. A free press supports an informed public, which holds the powerful accountable. Healthy competition and capitalism have unlocked opportunities and efficiencies that media companies have benefited from, and there’s no reason to believe that the AI era will be different. However, given the unhealthy dominance of the big technology companies, the last decade has been perilous for the press.
Therefore, any conversation around the future of AI must be anchored on the needs of an informed public, which starts and ends with an ecosystem that supports professional local and national newsrooms.
Given what we have witnessed over the past decade in the proliferation of mis- and disinformation, which has leveraged technology and vacuums in trust, the generative power of AI must give us pause. With power comes responsibility, and these are tools that we must use, and govern, wisely.
As someone who is listening, reading and thinking about what’s next as a full-time job, the acceleration of AI and its impact on media has got me on the edge of my seat. I’ve witnessed firsthand what media organizations have accomplished with AI for decades, and eagerly anticipate continued innovation. I also respect and acknowledge the efforts of media organizations to defend their work product, their creative output, the reporting, writing, photography, cinematography… as so much more than a mere data set.
We know our work. We know our worth. And we know our audiences and respect their values, which is why they value us. While the questions and innovations will keep on coming, there are unequivocal truths that should guide us as we continue to build a strong media ecosystem.
For a decade, artificial intelligence (AI) has enabled digital media companies to create and deliver news and content faster, to find patterns in large amounts of data, and engage with audiences in new ways. However, with much hyped recent announcements including ChatGPT, Microsoft’s next-gen Bing, and Meta’s LlaMA, media outlets recognize that they face significant challenges as they explore the opportunities the latest wave of AI brings.
In this second story in our two-part series on the evolution of AI applications in the media business*, we explore six challenges that media outlets face around AI tools, from the misuse of AI to generate misinformation, errors and accuracy, to worries about journalistic job losses.
While it has been used by media companies for various purposes over the last 10 years, AI implementations still face challenges. One of the biggest is the risk of creating and spreading misinformation, disinformation and promoting bias. Generative AI could make misinformation and disinformation cheaper and easier to produce.
“AI language models are notorious bullshitters, often presenting falsehoods as facts. They are excellent at predicting the next word in a sentence, but they have no knowledge of what the sentence actually means,” wrote Melissa Heikkilä for MIT Technology Review.
Generative AI can be used to create new content including audio, code, images, text, simulations, and videos—in mere seconds. “The problem is, they have absolutely no commitment to the truth,” wrote Emily Bell in the Guardian. “Just think how rapidly a ChatGPT user could flood the internet with fake news stories that appear to have been written by humans.”
Julia Beizer, chief digital officer at Bloomberg Media, says the biggest challenge she sees around AI is accuracy.
“At journalism companies, our duty is to provide our readers with fact-based information. We’ve seen what happens to our discourse when our society isn’t operating from a shared set of facts. It’s clear AI can provide us with a lot of value and utility. But it’s also clear that it isn’t yet ready to be an accurate source on the world’s information,” she said.
Francesco Marconi, longtime media AI advocate and co-founder of AppliedXL, said that though AI technologies can reduce media production costs, they also pose a risk to both news media and society as a whole.
“Unchecked algorithmic creation presents substantial pitfalls. Despite the current uncertainties, newsrooms should monitor the evolution of the technology by conducting research, collaborating with academic institutions and technology firms, and implementing new AI workflows to identify inaccuracies and errors,” he said.
“The introduction of generative summaries on search engines like Google and Bing will likely affect the traffic and referral to publishers,” Marconi said. “If search engine users can receive direct answers to their queries, what motivation do they have to visit the publisher’s website? This can impact news organizations in terms of display ads and lead generation for sites that monetize through subscriptions.”
It presents a new challenge, according to Marconi. The explosion of data from IoT has created a world where there is too much of it. “We are now producing more information than at any other point in history, making it much more challenging to filter out unwanted information.”
A significant challenge for journalism today is filtering and contextualizing information. News organizations and journalism schools must incorporate computational journalism practices, so that journalists are also responsible for writing editorial algorithms in addition to stories.
“This marks an inflection point, where we now must focus on building machines that filter out noise, distinguish fact from fiction, and highlight what is significant,” Marconi said. “These systems are developed with journalistic principles and work 24/7 to filter out irrelevant information and uncover noteworthy events.”
AI-powered text generation tools may threaten journalism jobs, which has been a concern for the industry for years. On the other side is the longstanding argument that automation will free journalists to do more interesting and intensive work. It is clear, however, that given the financial pressures faced by media companies, the use of AI to streamline staffing is a serious consideration.
Digital media companies across the U.S. and Europe are grappling with what the potential of generative AI may mean for their businesses. Buzzfeed recently shared that it planned to explore AI-generated content to create quizzes, while cutting a percentage of its workforce. Last week, CEO of German media company Axel Springer Mathias Doepfner candidly admitted that journalists could be replaced by AI, as the company prepared to cut costs.
There is a valid concern regarding job displacement when considering the impact of AI on employment, Marconi agreed—with a caveat. “Some positions may disappear entirely, while others may transform into new roles,” he said. “However, it is also important to note that the integration of AI into newsrooms is creating new jobs: Automation & AI editors, Computational journalists, Newsroom tool managers, and AI ethics editors.”
Potential legal and ethical implications
One of the other biggest challenges digital media companies and publishers will face with the rise of AI in the newsroom are issues around copyright and intellectual property ownership.
ChatGPT and other generative AI are trained by scraping content from the internet, including open-source databases but also copyrighted articles and images created by publishers. “This debate is both fascinating and complex: fair use can drive AI innovation (which will be critical for long-term economic growth and productivity). However, at the same time it raises concerns about the lack of compensation or attribution for publishers who produced the training data,” according to Marconi.
“AI’s legal and ethical ramifications, which span intellectual property (IP) ownership and infringement issues, content verification, and moderation concerns and the potential to break existing newsroom funding models, leave its future relationship with journalism far from clear-cut,” wrote lawyer JJ Shaw for PressGazette.
While AI is not new, it is clearly making an evolutionary leap at present. However, while media companies may have been slow to adopt technology in the early days of the internet, today’s media executives are keen to embrace tools that improve their businesses and streamline operations. But given the pace at which AI is evolving, there’s still much to learn about the opportunities and challenges it presents.
Currently, there are some practical concerns for digital media companies and large questions still to be answered, according to Bloomberg’s Beizer. She questions how the advancement of these tools will affect relationships: “If we use AI in our own content creation, how should we disclose that to users to gain their trust?”
Wired has already made the first step by writing a policy that places clear limits on what they will use AI for and how the editorial process will be handled to ensure that a quality product is produced.
Beizer also poses the question of “how publishers and creators should be compensated for their role in sourcing, writing and making the content that’s now training these large machines?”
While in some eras, media companies have been swept along with the tide of technological change, with AI media executives are clearly grappling with how to embrace the promise while better managing the impact on their businesses.
All of these trends are likely to further disrupt media markets and digital content companies. Of them, blockchain is getting a lot of attention at the moment. And rightfully so.
A growing market
Identified last year by PwC as one of eight breakthrough technologies that “will be the most influential on businesses worldwide in the very near future,” it’s an innovation which has excited investors, business and governments around the world.
One proponent, Comcast Ventures, the VC affiliate of the Comcast Corporation, recently joined IBM, the technology community Galvanize, and the VC Boldstart Ventures, in supporting a growth lab for early stage blockchain startups. Led by MState, a press release for the initiative notes that “more than 100 Fortune 500s companies have active blockchain initiatives and the number is growing fast.”
“[Blockchain is a] distributed electronic ledger that uses software algorithms to record and confirm transactions with reliability and anonymity. The record of events is shared between many parties and information once entered cannot be altered, as the downstream chain reinforces upstream transactions.”
This 3 minute video from PBS also sums up the technology very effectively, with the visuals perhaps being an easier way – for some people – to make sense of this system:
The global blockchain market is predicted to grow from USD 411.5 million in 2017 to USD 7,683.7 million by 2022, at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 79.6%. The technology has the potential to impact multiple areas of interest to media companies, including: payments and contracts, as well as content distribution and digital asset management.
Commenting on an earlier study by the same company (Research and Markets) Business Wire noted in April 2017: “The media and entertainment vertical is expected to witness the highest CAGR during the forecast period.”
According to one advocate for blockchain, Gil Beyda, Managing Director of Comcast Ventures, there are good reasons to be excited by this nascent technology.
“The internet connected people and businesses with near zero cost of distribution. However, the network still required intermediaries (website, etailers, etc.) to aggregate people and content/goods and provide a trust layer for transactions,” he explained in an email to Digital Content Next.
“Blockchain fundamentally changes that model by creating trust between individuals and companies that are unknown to each other. This allows new decentralized business models that were not possible before.” Beyda acknowledges that “It is still in the early days. ” However, he points out that blockchain is a “horizontal technology that has the potential to touch nearly every business from, supply chain management to commerce, to content consumption.”
As a result, Comcast, like a number of other media companies – such as Spotify – are exploring the potential afforded by blockchain to create (and support) new, and existing, business models.
“Comcast has announced the Blockchain Insights Platform with NBCU+Disney+Altice+Cox and others to match audience datasets — without sharing data — to better plan, target, execute and measure advertising,” Beyda told us.
The initiative, launched at Cannes Lions last summer, sees Comcast partner with NBCUniversal, Disney, Altice USA, Channel 4 (UK), Cox Communications, Mediaset Italia and TF1 Group (France) in order to deliver “a new and improved advertising approach which would facilitate the secure exchange of non-personal, audience insights for addressable advertising.”
Marcien Jenckes, President, Advertising, Comcast Cable, argued at the time: “This new technological approach would make data-driven video advertising more efficient and consumer data more secure. We’ll work with the participants in this initiative to improve ad planning, addressable targeting, execution and measurement, to ultimately create even more value for the television advertising industry.”
“Another internal project enables IoT devices in the home to use blockchain to secure and control access. Others at Comcast at looking at consumer loyalty programs and energy management,” Beyda says.
Comcast’s entry into this space goes beyond their traditional content role, to include expanded home automation services (offered, their website states, to more than 15 million customers at no additional cost) supported by a blockchain based tool. This will enable consumers “to easily grant, revoke and tailor access to any IoT device in a way that is safe, private and highly resistant to tampering.”
As Noopur Davis, Chief Information Security Officer, Comcast Cable, observed in a recent blog post: “Blockchains may be most commonly associated with cryptocurrencies [like bitcoin, Ed], but the underlying technology provides a powerful, flexible and secure platform that can support many types of sensitive transactions where privacy and reliability are critical.”
With Intel predicting that the average household will have 50 connected in-home devices by 2020 (up from ten in 2016), Comcast join Google, Amazon and others at the intersection of media and tech, who are operating in the increasing busy connected-home market.
Other potential benefits
Outside of these areas, Beyda also highlights how “early application of blockchain in media companies might include identity, royalty tracking, digital rights management and content distribution.”
Arguably it’s the payment and distribution opportunities afforded by this technology which will pique the interest of many content creators and rights holders.
As Deloitte commented in a recent paper (Blockchain @ Media | A new Game Changer for the Media Industry?): “Blockchain technology permits bypassing content aggregators, platform providers, and royalty collection associations to a large extent. Thus market power shifts to the copyright owners.”
Further possible blockchain uses identified by Deloitte include “new pricing options for paid content,” improved “distribution of royalty payments,” as well as “secure and transparent C2C sales” and “consumption of paid content without boundaries.”
Although adoption and the evolution of this technology still has some way to go, and several of these ideas – such as a micro-payment future have been hotly anticipated before – Deloitte nonetheless suggest:
“Possible applications and technical innovations will have a far reaching impact: content creators may be able to keep a close track of their playtimes, royalties and advertising revenues could be shared in an exact and timely manner based on consumption, and low cost content could be purchased efficiently, even if priced at mere fractions of cents.”
Meanwhile, companies like MetaX are exploring how blockchain can address issues of viewability and ad fraud by recording and storing detailed real-time ad impressions, and others have argued that blockchain technology (which allows users to trace, chronologically, any changes) can also be used to address issues of fake news and content manipulation.
“The media industry is stuck with licensing, distribution and collection structures that are pre-Internet,” Bruce Pon – founder of BigchainDB, a Berlin based blockchain database – wrote recently on Medium.“The blockchain enables new ways to think about the value exchange between creators, middlemen and consumers.”
Dan Williamson, CEO and co-founder of The-BLOCK.io, agrees: “We believe blockchain technology will have a huge impact on the media industry,” he told Digital Content Next.
“It will help revenue-strained media companies raise finances through ICOs and allow their readers and advertisers to participate in micropayment-friendly ecosystems. The immutable and tamper-proof nature of the blockchain will help advertisers and media owners guard against the widespread fraud and mistrust that plagues the industry. [And] it will also allow companies and individuals to distribute content in ways such that it is impossible to take it down: a double-edged sword.” Although Pon believes that “media companies are sleepwalking into this next technology maelstrom, without knowing what’s going to hit them,” the experience of Gil Beyda and his team at Comcast Ventures indicates that there are some blockchain cassandra’s out there in medialand.
“I believe we’ll see applications of blockchain technology in production in the next 1-2 years,” Beyda predicts, suggesting that the evolution of this technology – and the myriad of benefits it could potentially unlock – might become more mainstream sooner than you might realize.
“If successful, it will disrupt Google, Facebook and the entire digital advertising industry,” he says. “What happens then? It could herald new economic era for the internet, whereby content creators are rewarded for their work and users are rewarded for their data.”
As a result, as Dr. Nelson Granados – an Associate Professor of information systems, and Director of the Institute for Media, Entertainment, and Culture at Pepperdine’s Graziadio School of Business – has argued:
“If you are in media and entertainment, 2018 will be a year to closely monitor and possibly experiment or invest in blockchain innovation, if you haven’t done so yet. Otherwise, you could be left behind.”
And no discerning media company wants that.
Matthew Schroder, a Doctoral Student at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication contributed to the research for this article.
Good afternoon. My name is Jason Kint. I am the CEO of Digital Content Next. DCN is the only trade group dedicated to serving high-quality digital content companies that manage trusted, direct relationships with consumers and advertisers. We have grown to represent more than 80 digital media companies which reach 100% of the U.S. online population and are leading much of the evolution in news and entertainment.
Despite the incredible advances of the last 20 years, the internet still holds vast, untapped potential for consumers. Devices are getting smarter. More immersive experiences roll out every day. At the same time, premium content companies face challenges in the transition to a digital world. What business model works best for each brand? How much should they partner with the big platforms? Is their content being used fairly? Are they being credited and compensated appropriately? Our members are at the forefront of these challenges – investing in engaging experiences and experimenting with new ways to distribute and monetize their content.
Copyright piracy is a serious crime that undermines the progress to a healthy digital ecosystem. Ultimately, it costs consumers in the form of higher prices. But, copyright piracy also hurts the ability for media companies, our members, to monetize their content.
Newspapers are constantly fighting online scams that offer discounted or free subscriptions to their premium content. In a case this spring, one website was found to be offering discounted subscriptions to 20 or so premium news sites including our member, The New York Times, Financial Times and Wall Street Journal. The site’s owner would sign up for free trial or short-term subscriptions and then re-sell the subscription as a full-year subscription. Of course, he collected full payment up front. The newspapers were tipped off when consumers called to complain that their subscription had been cut off after a few months. These efforts to combat piracy cost resources and money, but they also have real damages for consumers.
Live sports broadcasts are another category that is particularly vulnerable during the transition to digital.Companies are experimenting with new ways for consumers to view this highly compelling content. But, these efforts are undercut by thieves who blatantly post full live streams of entire games on social media or other platforms. According to one study, 54% of millennials have watched illegal streams of live sports and a third admit to regularly watching them.
This impact is felt disproportionately by smaller media companies with fewer resources to monitor and stop these crimes. Ellen Seidler, an independent filmmaker took out a second mortgage and racked up credit card debt just to make “Then Came Lola.” In 2006, it debuted at film festivals and then was released via DVD and via streaming sites. But the movie only grossed a quarter of what was expected because Ellen found that the movie was available for “free” on thousands of pirate sites. Similarly, Maria Schneider, an independent musician, testified before the US Congress that she has no time for making music anymore as she focuses entirely on protecting her copyrighted works. She is an artist who hast lost the time to create her art. In a game of whack-a-mole, independent creators like Ellen and Maria don’t stand a chance. And, left unchecked, consumers will be left fewer options for high quality news and entertainment.
Another harm, unknown to many consumers, is that many of the pirate sites also traffic in malware. According to a 2015 study by the Digital Citizens Alliance, one out of every three pirate sites contained malware. As organized crime syndicates moved into the content theft business, they saw the opportunity to make more money by distributing malware.
To really combat content theft, we need more resources/focus/coordination from law enforcement. Piracy actors react differently to law enforcement than they do to lawsuits. For instance, when Megaupload was taken down, a number of cyber lockers got out of the business. That wouldn’t have happened without the attention of law enforcement.
We also need more attention from Google, which holds a monopoly on the internet search market. Currently, Google will flag pirate sites after thousands of downloads or complaints. But, they make no effort to favor authorized copyright holders or trusted sources in their algorithm. Instead, Google crawls the Pirate Bay and other known copyright thieves every day to ensure that content can be found. Google enables this game of whack-a-mole that places a huge, unreasonable burden on the copyright holder. Google works with many of our members to take down pirated content, but they can and should do more.
The same holds true for Facebook. Content creators don’t have visibility into these platforms to see where their content is being shared illegally. Google and Facebook collectively act as a duopoly, sharing as much as 99% of the growth in advertising last quarter. At the same time, the platforms are slow to adopt measures to combat fraud or even provide more transparency to protect the content ecosystem. More can be done to ensure that valuable content isn’t illegally streamed.
We’re living in a new, unprecedented digital era. Consumers have the ability to discover premium content and experiences like never before. Facebook and Google engineers have created social and search discovery engines which are quite literally changing global society. But, without greater protections for content, consumers might be left with all the tools of discovery but with a bad malware hangover and no good content. Thank you for having me.