Digital Innovation Digital Publishing
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Finding the opportunity in AI depends on publishers building partnerships

AI could be the most ruthless disruptor the news business has ever faced, and it could also be the industry’s best hope to save and sustain itself.

Tech entrepreneur Ricky Sutton believes that explosive public adoption and the industrialisation of plagiarism mean inaction is simply not an option for publishers.

As a journalist-turned-AI entrepreneur I have a front-row seat to the tech-tonic shifts that are driving change in the media.

I was heading digital at News UK when a still-small Google came to us for help. I pitched a social start-up before Facebook, then saw News Corp splurge £433 million on MySpace. My warnings about programmatic ads were brushed aside before revenue collapsed and our smartest sales people left en masse.

At the top of my news career, I quit and joined Microsoft as a maternity cover to learn what we were doing wrong. I worked on Bing, Big Data, partnerships and video, and armed with what I learned, founded AI company Oovvuu which now services publishers and broadcasters globally.

Knowing what I know through my tech connections, AI will be the most ruthless disruptor the news industry has faced. Explosive public adoption and the industrialisation of plagiarism means inaction is simply not an option.

As an entrepreneur though, I see AI is the best opportunity yet to save and sustain the global news industry and I am writing this to share some media tech-minded perspectives.

AI magic 

OpenAI’s ChatGPT changes the world because it makes AI simple. It feels like magic. It has delivered what founders call product market fit.

OpenAI passed a million users in five days and its value has ballooned to £20 billion. It is worth twice as much as News Corp in just seven months. Microsoft owns 49% of OpenAI and is on track to become the first $4 trillion company.

AI’s risks and opportunities are becoming clear.

Generative AI will make newsrooms more efficient but it also automates industrial-scale content theft. I bought an £11 app this week that scraped articles from The Guardian and re-wrote them posing as the BBC.

A Belarus bot farm can now publish 200,000 different versions of the Sun’s homepage via an automated prompt, and do it every second. Forever.

It poses huge questions. Who owns content in a GenAI future? Is it the publisher as the source? Is it the creator who posted the prompt? Microsoft or ChatGPT for doing the rewrite? 

And if you are the owner, how will you track ownership when your words are being rewritten 10 million times?

To solve this, I am working with international copyright agencies and start-ups in the UK, US and Australia. Proving provenance is about to become big business.

Global broadcasters are rightly fearful that fake news will be passed off under their trusted brands. I am working with them on technologies to reveal forgeries.

Advertising will be next. How do ads work if no-one knows who owns the content? Who gets paid? Will programmatic servers be able to tell real from fake? Why will they care in the chase for scale?

And then there’s scale. Swift adoption of AI will spawn a content explosion. The web will grow thousands of times larger and the competition for attention thousands of times tougher.

Scale leads to falling ad yields. Publisher subscription incomes are topping out now. If ad rates fall, can news websites even be profitable?

Truth and opportunity

That feels frightening but tech has taught me it’s an opportunity.

Oovvuu’s mission is to put a relevant video in every article. It required us to build AI to read articles, watch videos and match them together. It also needed publishers and broadcasters who were traditionally rivals to work together. Building the model for that partnership was Oovvuu’s real innovation.

I achieved it by clearly articulating undeniable truths that benefited everyone, and we are here again with AI.

Truth one
Tech companies need news more than ever. Publisher content trains their AIs and provides relevant results. The Washington Post found that ChatGPT relies on news sites for half its top results. I only know this because journalists at The Washington Post uncovered it. And I only know about this because ChatGPT told me. That’s opportunity number one.

Truth two
The consumption of news, video and audio are all rising because five billion people need it. The media boom only feels like a bust because the business model is broken. This is a classic market failure and solving it is opportunity number two.

Truth three
Big Tech companies have trillion dollar ambitions. They have the cash and need the content. Media has the content and needs the cash. Fixing that supply and demand goldmine is opportunity number three.

Truth four
Media bickering with tech is getting nowhere and regulators are getting heavier-handed with tech. Both sides benefit from finding a sustainable coexistence meaning partnership is now a business. That’s opportunity number four.

Market conditions are right for a collaboration that sees the media fuel the AI rocket for the tech companies but speed will be everything.

Microsoft famously acts at the speed of thought and will become less co-operative as the riches roll in. Media has a woeful record of moving at pace which suggests it’s a bad partner that would rather go out of business than work together.

But it can and must be done.

What happens next?

Nail it, and I see a future where News Corp licenses its content to Microsoft so it is only available on Bing, while Google does a deal with The Telegraph so its stories exclusively appear on Bard. Competition leads to great deals.

This might even be the much-vaunted splinternet – when the world wide web becomes multiple webs, following the path of competitive streaming services that have emerged from TV.

Will Big Tech start buying media companies? Disney bought Marvel, Star Wars and National Geographic for $8 billion to make Disney+ a competitive streamer.

Will Big Tech build their own media companies? Netflix spends $17 billion a year commissioning its own programming and has spawned a global content creation industry.

Any which way, AI can be the trigger for making news-gathering a viable business again:

  • Big Tech has the money and needs the news
  • Publishers have the news, the capability and the trust
  • Five billion web users worldwide are looking at us to solve it.

Ricky Sutton is a journalist, editor and strategist to some of the world’s leading media and tech organisations. He also founded Oovvuu, a global AI company that delivers relevant video to half a billion viewers worldwide.

Republished with kind permission of Media Voices, a weekly look at all the news and views from across the media world.