Blockchain technologies coupled with machine learning algorithms are about to transform the way media and entertainment are created and consumed. In fact, smart contracts enabled by blockchain databases may soon take an Attention Economy theory based on audience scarcity that underpins most online media business models to a whole new level.
Media companies are already experimenting with blockchain technologies to establish relationships with certain demographic audiences that pay people to watch specific types of content, says Shidan Gouran, president and COO of Global Blockchain Technologies Corporation, which is an investment company focusing on blockchain products and services. One of the first use cases for blockchain in that context will be in online adult entertainment, says Gouran.
“One of our portfolio companies is working with Playboy to create this type of application,” says Gouran.
In effect, the media company is sharing a portion of the advertising revenue it collects with individuals that make up a key demographic being targeted by advertisers. The smart contracts enabled by blockchain technologies would be employed to create an immutable distributed ledger capable of keeping track of who watched what content, for how long.
Naturally, the precise business model that would be used to compensate both the viewer of the content and the company that distributed that content still needs to be worked out. But the concept is not all that different from tracking the number of individuals that watched, for example, a webinar. The only difference is the underlying smart contract is both simpler to set up and immutable, which means that all parties involved have access to a record of the event that can’t be tampered with.
Smart contracts are also starting to be employed to change the relationships between media and entertainment companies. EY (formerly known as Ernst & Young) is working with Microsoft on the development of a rights and royalties application based on blockchain technologies that enables smart contracts to be established between providers of gaming content and Microsoft. The immutable nature of the application will provide more visibility and accountability into how and when content provided by other companies and even individual contributors such as voice-over artists is being used within Microsoft gaming applications, says Paul Brody, global innovation leader for blockchain at EY. Those smart contracts will then make it possible to onboard new content providers in a matter of minutes, adds Brody.
“Microsoft wants to turn this into an ecosystem,” says Brody.
That same approach can be applied across a broad range of business-to-business (B2B) relationships within the media and entertainment industry that go well beyond gaming software, notes Brody.
Ultimately, all that will be fed into applications that will automate much of the payment process as well. Invoices will, for example, be automatically matched against statements of work without requiring any intervention on the part of an accountant, adds Brody.
AI to Analyze, Shape Content Creation
Machine and deep learning algorithms will also be applied to analyze the content being created by media and entertainment companies. By applying those algorithms within analytics applications, media and entertainment companies should be able to predict with greater confidence what type of content is likely to have the most appeal to ever narrower audience segments.
For example, Paul Cheesbrough, CTO for 21st Century Fox, at a recent event hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS), described to attendees how one of the largest media and entertainment companies in the world has loaded all its content and movie archives into the AWS cloud.
“Anything that is shot with a camera is now stored and processed throughout its lifecycle using AWS services,” says Cheesbrough.
Those services include an AWS Rekognition service based on facial analytics that 21st Century Fox is analyzing to determine, among other things, which frames will have the most appeal to audiences.
Obviously, there’s a danger that too much reliance on past content consumption trends might result in algorithms having a negative impact on creativity. But as new types of content find an audience, it’s only a matter of time before, for example, a new type of show becomes part of the analytics mix. The tension between artists and back office over content will always reign, regardless of what any analytics application predicts.
Media and entertainment companies will also need to decide to what degree applying various forms of AI is appropriate when covering a live event. Major League Baseball (MLB) just announced it is extending a relationship with Amazon Web Services to include an analytics application that applies machine learning algorithms to baseball games during live coverage. MLB and Amazon ML Solutions Lab are using an Amazon SageMaker service for building AI applications to test how well they can accurately predict pitches by evaluating the pitcher, batter, catcher and game situation to predict the type and location of the next pitch.
Theoretically, anything available to the sports fan is also going to be available to the opposing teams. It might take only a few seconds to flash signs from the dugout to the third base coach and on to the batter that would be based on an AI application. Of course, predicting what type of pitch is likely to be thrown next creates all kinds of possibilities for gambling, as well.
But it doesn’t just stop there. MLB says it also intends to leverage Amazon SageMaker and the natural language processing service called Amazon Comprehend to build a language model that would create analysis for live games in the tone and style of iconic announcers. For example, legendary Los Angeles Dodger announcer Vin Scully might never really be retired!
Naturally, what applies to sports announcers can be theoretically applied to actors, as well. In the very near future, it’s not too hard to imagine going to see a movie that includes, for example, a new role written specifically for Humphrey Bogart.
With AI, Tracking Real and Created Becoming Blurry
In fact, as digital video technologies coupled with AI algorithms continue to advance, it may become increasingly difficult to distinguish between what’s real versus what is being artificially rendered. There may be a time when AI is applied to everything to determine what news to cover, to the dissemination of “fake news” as part of carefully crafted propaganda campaigns being distributed across social media outlets.
The trouble is that the technology already exists, so most media and entertainment companies will need to come to terms with both the risks and potential rewards. In fact, most organizations need to be factoring blockchain and AI technologies into their business strategies now before they find themselves digitally disrupted out of existence, says Michael Fauscette, chief research officer for G2 Crowd, a provider of a platform for reviewing software and services based on user feedback.
“It’s not like the timeline for all this is years away,” says Fauscette.
The challenge facing media and entertainment companies especially, however, will be finding a way to leverage those technologies in a way that does more good than harm.