Mind Readings: The Entertainment Industry’s AI Reckoning is Coming

Mind Readings: The Entertainment Industry's AI Reckoning is Coming

In today’s episode, I discuss the reckoning coming for the entertainment industry due to advances in AI. Generative AI puts the power of content creation into the hands of individuals, threatening big studio’s business models. But this shift also enables underrepresented voices to tell their own stories like never before. Don’t miss this thoughtful look at how AI will reshape entertainment as we know it.

Mind Readings: The Entertainment Industry's AI Reckoning is Coming

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In today’s episode, let’s talk about the reckoning for the entertainment industry. Right now, as of the time of recording, this is July, mid-July 2023, two of the entertainment industry’s unions, the Writers Guild of America, and the Screen Actors Guild are both on strike. The terms of the strike are mainly around things like pay residuals, which are essentially royalties that artists are paid for the use of their work on an ongoing basis, and the use of artificial intelligence. And it is this last topic that we’re going to talk about today, because I’m really not qualified to be talking about the other stuff. I’ve never worked as an actor.

So let’s talk about the way that AI is being perceived by both the unions and the studios. The studios clearly see AI as a cost saving mechanism. As there’s been no documentation, but it was reported by SAG-AFTRA, which is the actors union, that the studios’ proposal for background actors is that you get one day’s pay. You’d be required to have your identity scanned, and then they could use that identity as a background actor in perpetuity with no additional pay.

This obviously is less than ideal if you are a background actor because essentially it puts you out of work, at least with that studio for however long they need additional background actors. And as we talked about in an episode of the newsletter recently, for stuff like that, it’s probably not gonna last long anyway, because you can get synthetic actors. You can use Unreal Engine, MetaHuman to generate fully synthetic people. These are not leading roles, right? This is somebody who is literally just standing on the sidewalk, looking at their phone or looking at the thing go by, but they’re not key players. And so those background actors aka extras, as they’re normally known, yeah, that job as a whole is in peril.

But here’s the thing – the benefit that studios will get in the short term is real, and it will come at the expense of some of these unions. But the studios themselves are in mortal peril. And the reason why is generative artificial intelligence, the ability for us to use natural language to generate works of text, images, music, motion pictures, right now, is in its infancy, right?

When you look at some of the things that Stable Diffusion, for example, can produce, you look at it and go, well, that’s kind of wonky, right? Go look up “Pepperoni Hug Spot” on YouTube. It’s a very well known fully AI generated video. It’s very clearly AI generated, like no one’s going to mistake it for the real deal. But it shows you what’s possible for someone with some technical skills today. The tools keep evolving.

Unity, the game development engine released Unity AI generative prompts that allow you to create a virtual scene, right? You could say “an interior office at sunset with five desks and then three paintings, laptops on the desks, a coffee machine in the corner,” and so on and so forth. In your detailed prompt, it will then render that scene in a virtual environment that you construct a video game from. Whether you could construct a virtual movie from those capabilities are going to keep getting better and better and better.

And this is the reckoning for the entertainment industry as a whole – not for creators, but for the Bob Igers and Ted Sarandos’s of the world. Yes, these tools will let a studio like a Netflix or an Apple TV or a Disney Plus manufacture content at scale without paying a whole bunch of other people to do so. But it also lets you and I do that.

You can install Unity for free, you can install Unreal Engine for free on your desktop or laptop. And within the terms of the licensing, you can create content. And you can create content today, somewhat, but moving ahead, as easy as writing your own fan fiction, right?

Imagine the day comes when you maybe take your fan fiction that you wrote, to put it into a generative system that says, “Okay, here, we’ve rendered the 10 minute show or 30 minute show or two hour movie from the fiction.” What happens to the entertainment industry then?

Now, obviously, if you’re using someone’s existing franchise, then you know, that’s a copyright violation, and so on and so forth. But it’s not unreasonable to think that there will be entertainment franchises that independent creators build that are better than what the mainstream studios are going to build in the same way.

There are great works on Archive of Our Own – fan fiction works and original fiction that’s way better than you’re going to see on the shelf at the one remaining bookstore in your city that’s still open. This is the future of entertainment.

The future of entertainment is that creator tools are in everyone’s hands powered by natural language in such a way that anyone who’s got an idea for a story can manufacture it. Now there will be some creative differences. For example, with today’s large language models, they are very, very heavily censored, right? You can’t really get them to write a scene that involves more than like kissing, right? But it starts to throw all sorts of warnings about inappropriate content and things like that.

And there are models and stuff that have workarounds for that sort of thing. But it is entirely possible, it is probable, that there will be new models to do that – in the creation of images and the creation of video and the creation of audio – that also don’t have those restrictions. And then the sky’s the limit for what you want to create.

This presents a problem to the entertainment industry because it puts the power of creation and the ability to create franchises back in the hands of regular people. In the last 150 years, we have really seen the entertainment industry become an actual industry, right? Where you need $100 million to build a blockbuster movie where you need thousands of people to build a film.

Now and moving forward, maybe it’s 100 people, it’s 10 people. Maybe it’s just you, or you and a friend using these tools, right – to create, to create a universe of your own making, to tell the stories that you want to see told, to generate original franchises and original premises that maybe will be better than what a mainstream company can create.

Particularly if you are someone who is underrepresented – maybe you’re Korean, right? Or maybe you’re queer, or maybe you’re blind. These tools will let you tell stories that the entertainment industry would deem commercially non-viable. “Here’s a movie that will only appeal to like 1000 people. It’s not worth making for the entertainment industry today. It’s gonna have negative ROI.”

But you, or you and your friend and a gaming laptop, and these AI tools, you could make that movie. And if you sold, you know, 1000 tickets, right? At $10 each. You just made $10,000 on a movie that is telling the story that you want to tell.

That is the future of the entertainment industry. And they’re not ready. They are not ready. What they should be thinking about is going from producers or distributors to being scouts, looking for great stories and saying, “Okay, how can we license this story and bring this franchise under our production system? Maybe they’re more efficient at production. Maybe they have, you know, a bigger AI farm of servers.”

But it is entirely possible that we will be looking at a totally different way to create, to share and to tell stories in a way that returns the ability to tell stories and get them heard back to individual people.

Anyway, that’s what’s on tap for today. Thank you for tuning in. I’ll talk to you next time. If you’d like this video, go ahead and hit that subscribe button.

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