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SMNYC: Four Debates, Two Topics, One Educational Day

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On Monday, May 20, Streaming Media NYC hosted four debates on two topics that represented a fantastic programming win for the conference. The first half of the day was dedicated to AI and covered the full range of topics from authorship to copyright to privacy and more.

The second half of the day featured two panels debating the definition of premium content, the value of social media as well as the question of how CTV measures up against mobile as an advertising platform. Read on to get caught up.

Generative AI Insights and Debate

The first panel was titled AI: Boon or Bubble? and featured Brady Blacker, a talent manager at Fixated, an agency for creators that does over three billion views a month across social media; Steven Ship of Creative Intel, which uses AI to provide creators legal advice; Karissa Price, CMO of Dragonfruit.ai; Liz Blacker of Sabio Holdings, specializing in multicultural CTV advertising; and Robert Tercek of General Creativity, who set the stage and brought important insights.

“There are two common debates we hear today,” said Tercek. “One is the use of copyrighted works to train large language models. The second is whether or not AI is going to take our jobs.” He then took the audience on an important turn.

“But in my view, these two controversies crowd out other topics we should be more focused on. For instance,” he continued, “all these technology companies are encouraging us to migrate our workflows to a proprietary system in the cloud. That looks an awful lot like a roach motel: easy to check in, hard to check out.”

He also brought up the very idea of authorship. “AI also raises questions about authorship. I don't think we're thinking about this enough. The copyright question doesn't really address it squarely. It sort of addresses it sideways. But what is an author in an era when we're using machines to generate content? That’s a topic that I think could benefit from more focus.”

Steven Ship weighed in by painting a landscape full of brand-new right-to-publicity laws that will ultimately need to shake out in courts. “I think that name and likeness issues are also going to come into play,” Ship said. “Tennessee seems to be leading the way with the Elvis Act of allowing people to sue for name and likeness.”

Karissa Price added color: “It’s crazy times right now. You can’t say give me a Gustav Klimt-like picture with dragons. You can't use branded terms. The tools will refuse to do it. But if you cleverly allude to it, it will give a great result. Who created that? Is it the person who spoke the right prompt? Is it Dall-E? The creator of the original image?”

Rob Tercek tied it up loose ends as the discussion continued to cover ground on the use of copyrighted works to train these large language models: "Copyright is just reserved for human creators. Copyright only covers works. So you can't mimic a work, you can't copy somebody's work. But you can absolutely generate work in the style of that person. Some folks are trying to use right to publicity laws in New York, California, and Tennessee, and to perhaps stretch that to cover a person’s style. This is unproven, and so far, of the 16 major copyright suits against AI companies, all of those claims have been dismissed by the judge. So far, we're not seeing any progress in that direction.”

Braden Blacker weighed in on the pros and cons of AI, including a dramatic boost to productivity that would empower creators for sure, but also to bad actors seeking to exploit creator videos without permission. “Smaller creators can’t afford an editor, or an artist to make imagery, but they can now utilize AI to make more YouTube videos. Tools like Opus AI, where you put in a video and it’ll automatically make you clips for TikTok. That's exploded so many podcasts.”

At the same time, creators are facing the theft of these works. “Even with my roster,” Blacker said, “there are dating apps, other mobile apps that have ripped off creators’ videos, re-used them, they use AI to change the face just a bit, then use that content to make TikTok ads, Facebook ads, Instagram ads. It’s very hard to stop it.”

Karissa Price ended the first session on an optimistic note. "Creativity is a human thing. Creativity is rooted in being able to connect with other humans. You can get AI to go only so far. There's still that intangible of human-to-human connection. That is what creates authenticity, that creates trust. And that's where the hard work is."

The Value of AI, and for Whom?

The second panel of the day was titled The Real Value of Artificial Intelligence, and brought back Rob Tercek and Karissa Price and added Peter Csathy, Founder of Creative Media as well as Guy Bisson, Executive Director & Co-founder of Ampere Analysis.

Rob Tercek again kicked off with a presentation and predictions. “My forecast is that within the next five years, one person will be able to generate a feature length film using generative AI tools.” Rob also added a critical caveat to that statement: “However, I don't think that's actually going to be very practical, because I think it's still a team-based collaborative activity that requires human talent. Which is why I believe it's going to create more jobs than it eliminates. Moreover, any attempt to resist this is doomed to fail.”

Peter Csathy, Founder of Creative Media, added the idea of “ethically sourced AI” to the conversation. He argued for the retention and crediting of fair value to the creators of original works.

“It’s true that we need to accept and adopt these new technologies,” Csathy said. “But there is a general angst in the creative community and natural trepidation about AI. The outcry about the recent Apple ad—where a big machine crushes instruments, paint brushes, typewriters, all to reveal a thin iPad—was tone deaf, but the reaction to it is important.”

He outlined the artists’ point of view: “Everyone who creates works wants to have some control or agency over it. If your art is used as an ingredient to create value for somebody else, then you should share in the value that's created.”

Then he brought the argument home: “Much of that damage has already been done, because that value has been transferred up to this point without consent. The valuations of the big tech companies have gotten bigger, meanwhile media companies are still trying to figure it out. Not because they're trying to stop it; merely because they're trying to make sense of it and share fair value.”

Karissa Price, CMO of Dragonfruit.ai, added a counterpoint to the thrust of Rob’s initial presentation which had made the point that productivity gains come from technology, and they are also the only way that wages can increase. She focused on two key economic points.

"Productivity has risen 65 percent over the last decade,” Price said. “This is driven by technology. But wages have only grown 15%. The average person today—this is from Gallup—is only working three hours a day. They're burnt out, they’re tending to family, they are not engaged. Employee engagement rates globally have been falling for decades. Why? Because they know these facts.

“So now you bring in AI. Goldman Sachs estimates about 30 percent of our work is algorithmic and will be replaced by AI. Now what? Of course, people are nervous. Of course, people are fighting over these things. Of course, people are striking over these things.”

Guy Bisson of Ampere Analysis didn’t pull punches on the probability of AI having a huge impact. But he also had an optimistic economic view of that impact overall. "Let me be very clear. Every single job in Hollywood will be impacted by AI within the next few years. AI is already pretty good at localization, dubbing, and subtitling. It's pretty good at face swapping. It's pretty good at special effects, but not quite there. And the common denominator in all of these tools is that there is a human operator and a human intelligence behind them.”

From that vantage point he also articulated the classic argument that historically, technology has always changed the nature of labor and work. “Just think back 15 years,” Bissson said. “How many film negative cutters are employed today? How many cell animators? Hollywood did not collapse, it evolved to adopt the new technologies."

A Perspective on the Importance of the Device: CTV vs. Mobile

Mike Duffy of YumCrunch kicked off the second half of the day leading an exploration of the comparative strengths and weaknesses of mobile vs. CTV devices, focusing on both user experience and advertiser perspectives.

Dallas Lawrence of Telly argued persuasively that the mobile advertising experience today is an unmitigated catastrophe. “All five of the top five mobile apps used today in America are UGC messaging apps,” he said. “You can have your brand appearing next to $26 billion in content creation, or you can have your brand next to the next crazy thing that Kanye West says, an ocean of deepfakes, or the next MAGA-fueled conspiracy theorist." 

Lawrence also made the positive case for CTV, suggesting that already today it matches or surpasses mobile along many important targeting dimensions. Dallas cited the 2023 Comcast Advertising Report study as evidence that viewers are 58 percent more likely to recall ads that they see in a professional premium environment.

"CTV's engagement rates—completion of those who are watching a complete advertisement, outstrip mobile web by 30% and mobile app by nearly 2x,” said Lawrence. “So, dollar for dollar, you're getting significantly more engagement.”

Kent Rees of Sling Freestream emphasized the need to be on multiple platforms—both mobile and CTV—to reach diverse audiences. He also surfaced a key insight about the value of being able to weave users through these CTV and mobile experiences.  

"I’m a huge fan of connecting the dots through different content experiences,” Rees said. “To me, the blended experience is best. How does your FAST channel speak to your SVOD? How do those work together? As these TVs get smarter and as mobile continues to do what it does, you’re going to find these great breadcrumb content experiences that move between both platforms."

Hedvig Arnet of Vevo advocated for a multi-platform strategy, stressing the importance of being present across various media channels to effectively reach and engage diverse audiences.

"There’s a lot of premium content on mobile as well,” Arnet said. “There are brands creating content specifically for mobile. You’re speaking to the consumer one-on-one. You’re not speaking to a room full of people watching a television; you’re speaking to one person. People get really fired up about what they like, and also what they hate."

Steve Crombie, CEO of Totem, leaned on arguments about the ubiquity of the mobile device in our daily lives, underscoring the advantage of mobile in gathering and utilizing consumer data.

"By using the data on the mobile platform, you’re able to very easily understand what length they want, what frequency they want, what genre they like,” said Crombie. “Gen Z wants to create content with you. They want to get involved and participate with that IP. You cannot really do that well today with a connected television."

What Is Premium?

Erica Gruen of Quantum Media Associates moderated the final panel of the day, a discussion and debate on the definition of premium vs non-premium content.

Nathan Guetta, CEO of 2E6E6, discussed the blurring lines between premium and social content for younger generations: "What I can tell you is, when you watch his TikTok, this is the most important thing that I want to come back to, it's about culture. This is how you make culture, okay? And today, TikTok and YouTube are the vehicle for culture for this new generation."

Stan Ruszkowski, President of The Boxoffice Network, emphasized the role of social media in promoting premium content. “My affirmative here is to say that social is here to help promote premium content. It's not going to offer the immersive experience but it's really there to be able to target those right people."

Steve Crombie, CEO and founder of Totem Network, suggested premium content is defined by the audience, not by a media company. "Premium content is measured by the eyes of the beholder. It's easy to forget that they decide what's premium, not you."

Finally, Joe Caporoso, President of Team Whistle, laid it out in a simpler format. “The real challenge is having to find a piece of content that can engage an audience, and, at the same time, attract brand interest.”  

The content itself can come in different packages. “It can come in a Vodcast, it can come to UGC, it can come in a more traditional trailer or 12 to 22-minute piece of content that's been reformatted from YouTube to an OTT platform.”

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