Blockbuster and AI

The most notable aspect of the film Sunsprising involves its creation: an artificial-intelligence bot wrote the screenplay. Of course, it raises some interrogations about the capabilities of machine learning in artistry. But we understand quickly that the dialogue often sounds like a random series of strange sentences. Do we really think machines can replace writers – or maybe just assist them? As always and still for a while, human storytellers would be the brains creating a screenplay with clever plot twists and breakthrough dialogue. AI would enhance their work by providing insights that increase a story’s emotional pull—for instance, identifying a musical score or visual image that helps engender feelings of hope. This breakthrough technology would supercharge storytellers, helping them thrive in a world of seemingly infinite audience demand.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab recently investigated the potential for such machine–human collaboration in video storytelling. Was it possible that machines could identify common emotional arcs in video stories—the typical swings of fortune that have characters struggling through difficult times, triumphing over hardship, falling from grace, or declaring victory over evil? If so, could storytellers use this information to predict how audiences might respond?

Before getting into the research, let’s talk about emotional arcs. Great storytellers —from Sendak to Spielberg to Proust to Pixar—are skilled at exciting our emotions. With an instinctive read of our pulse, they tune their story to provoke joy, sadness, and anger at crucial moments. But even the best storytellers can deliver uneven results. What accounts for this variability? We theorize that a story’s emotional arc largely explains why some movies earn accolades and others fall flat. The idea of emotional arcs isn’t new. Every storytelling master is familiar with them, and some have tried to identify the most common patterns. The most popular arc follows the pattern found in Cinderella. As the story begins, the main character is in a desperate situation. That’s followed by a sudden improvement in fortune—in Cinderella’s case provided by a fairy godmother—before further troubles ensue. No matter what happens, Cinderella-type stories end on a triumphant note, with the hero or heroine living happily ever after.

Robot Writer

There’s evidence that a story’s emotional arc can influence audience engagement—how much people comment on a video on social media, for example, or praise it to their friends. In an University of Pennsylvania study, researchers reviewed New York Times articles to see if particular types were more likely to make the publication’s most emailed list. They found that readers most commonly shared stories that elicited a strong emotional response, especially those that encouraged positive feelings. It’s logical to think that moviegoers might respond the same way.

Some researchers have already used machine learning to identify emotional arcs in stories. One method, developed at the University of Vermont, involved having computers scan text—video scripts or book content—to construct arcs.

These models consider all aspects of a video—not just the plot, characters, and dialogue but also more subtle touches, like a close-up of a person’s face or a snippet of music that plays during a car-chase scene. When the content of each slice is considered in total, the story’s emotional arc emerges.

Valence Storytelling

You can see the high and low points of the montage in the graph. The x-axis is time, measured in minutes, and the y-axis is visual valence, or the extent to which images elicit positive or negative emotions at that particular time, as scored by the machine. The higher the score, the more positive the emotion. As with all our analyses, we also created similar graphs for a machine’s responses to audio and to the video as a whole. We’re focusing on the visual graphs, here and elsewhere, since that was the focus of our later analyses of emotional engagement.

MIT’s machine-learning models have already reviewed thousands of videos and constructed emotional arcs for each one. To measure their accuracy, we asked volunteers to annotate movie clips with various emotional labels. What’s more, the volunteers had to identify which video element—such as dialogue, music, or images—triggered their response. Most stories could be classified into a relatively small number of groups, just as Vonnegut and other storytellers suspected. Exhibit 2 shows that the arcs that emerge with the videos in the Vimeo data set are clustered into five families.

Seeing how stories take shape is interesting, but it’s more important to understand how we can use these findings. Does a story’s arc, or the family of arcs to which it belongs, determine how audiences will respond to a video? Do stories with certain arcs predictably stimulate greater engagement? There is still a lot of questions to unveil in this quest for the perfect story.

(Adaptation from the article ‘Ai and storytelling: machines as co-creators’ from Jonathan Dunn, Geoffrey Sands, Eric Chu, Deb Roy and Russel Stevens for McKinsey studies)

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Culture Must Remain

We might have been disappointed by the post-Weinstein Golden Globes ceremony last Sunday for its lack of self-awareness in these changing times. We may consider this award show as a possible total disaster or a shameful event, but we have to understand that it is just a reflection of the Hollywood value, putting entertainment before anything else.

Nevermind the movies, the theatricality and demand for applause at the Golden Globe awards in Los Angeles at the weekend took place on the red carpet. Actors wore black outfits to signal their solidarity with victims of the sexual harassment scandals that have consumed Hollywood. It’s hard to recall a more egregious display of vanity signaling than the black dress protest. It was “please snap me while I pose in my conscience”. Shortly before the awards there was a major crisis. So many Hollywood consciences needed to be on display that designers and stylists were reportedly running out of black attire and having to rush in more from their fashion bases in New York.

This year’s Golden Globes were meant to be a defiant, vibrant celebration of a post-Weinstein industry, an awards ceremony about so much more than meaningless awards. We were promised a reckoning, the leveling of a male-dominated industry that institutionalized the rape, abuse and harassment of women for decades. Like so much Hollywood product, advance buzz was greatly exaggerated. Not one actor or actress made direct reference to their industry’s greatest monster — the one they boast of slaying yet still want to appease. Host Seth Meyers, in his opening monologue, was the only person in the room to mention him by name (but it was just the objective of making things clear, attractive and buried from the beginning of the ceremony – nothing more).

75th Annual Golden Globe Awards - Show

So, again, a multi-billion closed society could not afford to mention grandly the issue, did not forget to gently clean up the room but carefully and attentively avoided to be too serious about it. Oprah Winfrey said few inspirational words to make sure everybody was clear on the subject. It was moving…up to the next step now. It shows that a lot is still to be done and it’s easy to turn the darkest pages of your history in the name of what you stand for – make the people dream and have a good time. We could see the issue with numerous companies like Hugo Boss or Volkswagen with the WWII implication. As the other guy said, the show must go on. And even if the show definitely tasted slightly different, Hollywood has to stay Hollywood even if it hurts or scratches here and there. We’ve been through hundreds of scandals in the last 80 years – too long to mention but you know them. The cinema industry will continue to entertain…until something else will pop up and we will make a happening out of it.

How Many Years More…

Transhumanism is an international cultural and intellectual movement that aims to transform the human conditions by developing and making widely available sophisticated technologies to greatly enhance and transform human intellect and physiology. The most common transhumanist thesis is that human beings may eventually be able to transform themselves into different beings with abilities so greatly expanded from the current condition as to merit the label of post human beings. Julian Huxley came up with this word, animated by a family tendency to reinvent the future, with his brother Aldous. That may lead us to be defeating the odds of life for sure from now on, to beat death in the next steps. The human desire to acquire new capacities is as ancient as our species itself. We have always sought to expand the boundaries of our existence, be it socially, geographically or mentally. There is a tendency in at least some individuals always to search for a way around every obstacle and limitation to human life and happiness. We don’t even talk about all the eminent people that approached this theory through the centuries: Sumerians, Taoists, Greeks, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Isaac Newton, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, the Marquis de Condorcet and more recently Elon Musk, Dmitry Itskov, Ray Kurzweil and his boss Larry Page in the company Calico.

Transhuman

Let’s be honest, the process is definitely in process, and limited only by the primitive nature of our existing interface tools – our body capabilities for instance. We already carry around devices that collect and store all the information we need, supplement whatever lacks we may have and provide us with access to information sources from around the world in a snap. Quite naturally, this has raised the question of whether or not increasing reliance on such devices and applications is affecting our natural intelligence. A recent study at Columbia University demonstrated that subjects were significantly less likely to remember information that they knew they could easily access again using a search engine. Is this proof of diminishing mental capacity? Why commit to memory something you can easily access otherwise? Engineers and scientists may no longer be able to regurgitate many of the formulae they use on a regular basis, but they don’t have to. Not if they understand what the results mean and how to apply them. Using media to amplify our capabilities has been going on ever since our distant ancestors. And certain skills may indeed be diminished when a new medium emerges to serve the same function with greater efficiency, much in the way that written histories supplanted the oral traditions of earlier cultures. Whether or not increasing reliance on digital media and mobile devices compromises our innate capabilities is a question no one can answer. Some people have a natural sense of direction; their capabilities may well be enhanced by the access to additional information.

What ‘singularity’ speaks to is bypassing the sensory interface tools we now employ in favor of direct access between the mind and digital media and possibilities. It’s pointless to grieve over the loss of learned skills once they have limited relevance. Infinitely more important is the potential impact that new and enhanced human capabilities will have on society. The most apparent of these will be the difference in ability between those with the desire and financial strength to embrace the new technology and those who do not. This divide will very likely be manifest along socioeconomic, religious and generational lines. Will those who refuse or lack the resources to take advantage of neural augmentation be able to coexist, let alone compete, with those who embrace it?

Are we prepared to address the conflicts certain to arise when some members of society share this digital version of opportunities while others do not? What about the ability to perform complex calculations in seconds, or retrieve information instantaneously? Neural augmentation promises to level the playing field among those who accept it by compensating for individual cognitive deficits. Ironically, it also has the potential of creating an immense rift between those who enjoy its advantages and those who do not.

As far as marketing fields is concerned, it is impossible to predict what effects singularity might have on advertising. The first thing we understand is that ‘immortality’ sells. The numerous companies created so far, all in different aspects of the evolution, are aiming to make incredible business along the way. But we need to admit that marketing is again slightly behind when you see all the evolution done so far. At its most basic level, marketers and advertisers concern themselves with instilling a particular message in the heads of people to whom it has relevance. We achieve this through the use of engagement and entertainment, and frequent exposure through a variety of media. How will ‘singularity’ affect the way marketing agencies use media? Will it alter the ways in which advertisements are integrated with people’s existing information-gathering habits? With enhanced mental capacity and capability, and instantaneous access to global networks, will the concept of entertainment for those so enhanced change radically? Will mass media and digital advertising continue to be relevant for those with neural augmentation? Marketing and advertising will certainly continue to exist, but we will face larger issues to find the formats they take social and psychological change that result from the singularity.

And we tend to forget about the brands themselves in this new paradigm that will definitely shape the next generation’s behaviors and beliefs. The brands will have to adapt to a new world, not only in the way they talk to people and deliver their messages but also in product development – corporations will have to create new offers to match the new people’s expectations, we will have to dig deeper in micro-tribes depending on their new capabilities and advancements, the brands will have to change their promise to make sure their brands continue to be relevant to a new ‘enhanced’ world. And we don’t start to think now about the new brands or the new products that will have to address new needs, brands will have to adapt to this ‘superhuman’ world – and maybe one day, facing the possibility to never die.

Whether it happens soon or in hundreds years, the integration of enhanced human beings with marketing, advertising and media will clearly define the next stage in human evolution and establish the future direction of our socio-political and cultural systems.

BlockChain Culture

Blockchains and crypto-currencies intrigue, excite or frighten, it depends, but everything suggests that they are giving birth to a new economy, already called Token Economy, based on a myriad of currencies and / or electronic tokens that reinvent uses, decentralize value and jostle existing systems. Your lack of understanding or your biased perception on blockchains prevent you from understanding all the opportunities they can bring.

Space Hardrock

Access and distribution

Access to content was always an issue. When you buy a book, do you only buy the copy, or do you own the content you have bought? When you buy a track on a music platform, do you have the perpetual right to play that song or can you copy it in a different format? This becomes more challenging when you consider a subscription service, wherein you pay for access to the platform, but lose the ability to listen to the track elsewhere or outside of the platform. OPUS, a startup powered by the Ethereum blockchain is positioning itself as the world’s first decentralized music platform. The startup intends to address long-standing issues in the entertainment and streaming industry.   On a technical level, OPUS encrypts music tracks on the fly and stores these permanently through the IPFS swarm. Meanwhile, you can listen to music through smart contracts, which will contain the decryption keys and file hashes. These smart contracts also provide a way for end-users to compensate creators for their music. These technical gains are advantageous enough and can potentially improve how just about any multimedia content is distributed and enjoyed online. This also gives third-party developers the ability to build applications that can access rich content stored on the OPUS blockchain and swarm.

Wide-spread distribution

You would think that with cloud-based services, you could easily access multimedia content from anywhere. There are restrictions, and these are mostly geographical. Some tracks and video content, for instance, are not globally available due to copyright restrictions and other legal impediments that prevent a song’s publisher from distributing to certain countries. In some cases, censorship might prevent a creative work from being distributed in a certain country or region. The blockchain can potentially resolve this.

Being a decentralized, there can be no entity that can unilaterally block valid access to content. It does not only involve music, but potentially any kind of digital content

 Commercial viability

This can be particularly concerning for independent or small artists who do not have full control in managing their works. The copyright holders may be screwed in the process Big artists might have more clout, but losing a big part of their potential income to the platform can still hurt, considering the effort one puts into conceptualizing and executing their performance art. Here’s where blockchain tech can help – by enabling artists to connect directly with fans and earn from revenues without cuts. On the Web, monetizing texts has always been a problem.

Managing Assets

The multi-billion dollar movie industry is also rife for disruption by innovative technologies like the blockchain. It can be said that this industry is currently highly-centralized, with the real power residing in certain few. Movie production is often mired in legaiz, which sometimes results in people not getting their fair part. We have to aim to decentralize film creation, which in particular can enable sourcing of talent, locations, and crew from across the globe. Better transparency means everyone in the production outfit knows where exactly the production money and box office earnings go. In particular, some try to improve the way digital rights are managed, to ensure that creators will be properly compensated, all through smart contracts.

Fighting Piracy

As with music, film is also no stranger to piracy, and it is often a costly battle for movie studios, distributors, and even law enforcement agencies to fight against piracy. Essentially, a movie is a collection of copyrights and titles, which span across screenplays, derivative works from books, designs, technical works, licensing from other works, merchandize, and so forth. Piracy can be a big expense and headache for movie studios. But in the same light, studios can also exploit content creators who might not have enough clout to enforce their stake in a film’s revenue or production. Companies think of record of transactions on any asset, idea, creative work, and the like. These can be tracked throughout their lifetime, even when ownership is sold or otherwise transferred or assigned, even when these assets are assigned to players in other industries, such as music, television, and the like.

Dozens of projects based on crypto currencies and tokens show the way. Automation of copyright processing, intelligent and sustainable indexing of works, greater transparency, direct contact of artists / authors and their fans, partial or total cancellation of financial intermediaries and their commissions, reduction of the advertising model. We understand that blockchains have serious assets to disrupt the cultural industry.

Disney, Magic and Power

Disney just bought the film and television arms of 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion, giving them access to rights to major licenses in cinema to FX network, Hulu platform and other great pieces of content (too long to list). Not touching the news platforms though. It’s difficult to imagine that one of the six core studios that make up Hollywood has effectively been integrated by another, definitely the end of an era. Another interest in the sale has been driven by the fact that Disney will now own Marvel with the X-Men and Fantastic Four. That’s a super hero merge for sure. Let’s have a focus about certain outcomes of the deal

Simpson Disney

Hulu will become the power arm

One of the things keeping Hulu from truly taking on Netflix and Amazon for streaming network superiority has been its strange ownership situation (Fox, Disney, NBCUniversal and Warner Bros). When Fox sells its 30 percent share of Hulu to Disney in this deal, Disney will become the majority shareholder in Hulu. And other deals could follow. Disney has been looking for a streaming platform to fight Netflix. And Hulu simply needs to go international – and now it’s entirely possible with the content library of the new giant.

Rupert Murdoch Legacy

Rupert Murdoch now owns 5 percent of Disney and will hold seats on the company’s board of directors. But Murdoch has always preferred the worlds of news and sports to the world of movies and scripted TV. The future of the Murdoch empire is now tied largely to the successful expansion of Fox News. And that can be a real thing for the world

Movies for Everybody?

Disney doesn’t make many movies per year, and those movies are almost always aimed at the blockbuster audience — which is to say families and young men in their early 20s and late teens. Disney is, in a real way, in the blockbuster business, making lots of Marvel, Star Wars, and animated films while rarely straining for much more. In contrast, Fox has many of the year’s most Oscar-friendly films. This isn’t a one-off, either. Fox Searchlight is fairly consistently in the Oscar hunt, and 20th Century Fox might not win awards as consistently, but it still continues to produce films aimed at adult audiences. Fox certainly tries to play the blockbuster game but still believing in movies for more mature audience. What will happen under the Disney banner?

Fox TV network will struggle

One of the assets Disney couldn’t buy from Fox was its broadcast network, home to everything from The Simpsons to New Girl to The X-Files. The network launched in 1986 and was largely seen as a folly, but by the mid-’90s, it was a mainstay in most American homes, breaking the hegemony of the big three networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC. If the deal goes through, all of Fox Television’s other assets — including its studio and attached cable networks, of which FX is the most prominent — will belong to Disney. And while there are a few value-related programs on the network, there’s no reason for the Fox TV network to keep airing almost everything. Disney could cut it a huge deal to carry many of those old Fox shows cheaply, figuring that they’re worth more to Disney as part of a huge streaming library and, thus, worth losing a lot of money on for a while. Well the main content in stake here is all the franchises on sports – NFL, NFC games and events like the Super Bowl. Long story here.

Media Consolidation

The quick and obvious take on the Disney-Fox deal is that media consolidation, already bad, is only getting worse. The big fish are eating each other, and soon there may only be one major studio left. The main way out to this concern is that tech companies can come in and “disrupt” the entertainment industry and media and shake things up to innovate for new options. Certainly Netflix has become a Hollywood heavyweight in no time (even if the films platform has got some difficulties). But most of the tech companies have built really great aggregators of content that comes from elsewhere.

If Fox is now part of Disney, then it’s hard to imagine that we’re not heading toward a universe where essentially all of the major media providers in the world might be owned by three or maybe four companies. With the entire philosophical question about the neutrality and diversity of content and artistry provided to the people. Are we going to end up with only one voice, after all…

Dead or Alive

This weekend, my country, France, was mourning two of its iconic figures – Jean d’Ormesson (writer and member of the Academie Francaise) and Johnny Hallyday (our King of Rock’n’Roll since 5 decades). The singer did bigger impact in the crowd than the writer. I’ve heard even some journalists saying that his death before Christmas was a cash opportunity for his music label. That is horrifying but marketing of dead celebrities is a two-billion-dollar industry. The marketing of dead celebrities attracts a lot of big brands and with that, controversy.

On January 10, 2016, David Bowie died. Even his biggest fans didn’t see this one coming. The English singer, songwriter and actor died in his apartment in New York City. The world was in shock. Two days before his death, Bowie released his twenty-fifth studio album; ‘Blackstar’, was released on his 69th birthday. Was this a ‘parting gift’ to his fans or a smart strategic marketing move? Did he know he was going to die? And was that why he released a new album? Five months later, the album ‘Bowie – Legacy, the Greatest Hits’ was released. Sales of his albums skyrocketed. A celebrity’s death makes marketing people do weird things. Gaining money out of someone’s death by releasing a ‘best of’ album only five months later. Is that smart or disrespectful? And we have tons of examples. e.g. in Coachella festival in 2012, Tupac appears on stage as a life-sized hologram, fifteen years after his death. It was so astonishing, as a matter of fact, it makes you wonder if a deceased musician could now go out on tour.

2016_DavidBowieCollection_DavidBowie_GavinEvans_SothebysPressOffice_140716

You can ask yourself the question: why wouldn’t you merchandise all kind of things? Delebs (dead celebs even have a nickname) remain famous. When it comes to celebrities, their brand value appears to go up once they have passed. Elvis has been dead for 40 years, mostly irrelevant to the current generations, but he is still “The King” through his albums, moviers and Graceland museum. Of course, many others continue to bring revenue after they passed away, like Michael Jackson, earning approx, $825 million in that time. All this creepy business toped $262.9 billion in terms of global licensed goods and services sales in 2016, the licensing of names and images of dead celebrities is big business.

People love celebrities regardless of whether they are alive or dead. This is the iconic nature of celebrities that drives the ongoing fascination. Brochstein notes, “In many cases, deceased celebrities connect people to some earlier time in their life, recalling a meaningful song or great concert, a memorable film or persona, or a vivid historical era or athletic achievement. Licensing is tied to the emotion that the celebrity brand evokes in a group of consumers. The more finely drawn the celebrity’s image is like James Dean as a rebel, Marilyn Monroe as a symbol of tragic glamour, Elvis as the King, the likelier that it can translated into products. “Beyond continuing to consume their music or other art forms, when utilizing icons as brands and tapping into the qualities that make them so special with thoughtful marketing partnerships and merchandise licensing, their equity can be very valuable.  As a marketer, icons are often simply well-known brands that do not require ongoing marketing support to stay popular and relevant to consumers.” Making money doesn’t have to stop when you drop dead … if you’re a celebrity.

In fact, the earning power of pop idols and movie stars can rapidly increase when they’re gone. Several interesting advertising campaigns have included well known figures from the past, including a computer-generated Audrey Hepburn for Galaxy chocolate, Marilyn Monroe promoting Chanel No5, Steve McQueen in Porsche commercials and Gene Kelly singing in the rain for Volkswagen. “You’ve got to do some smart thinking to see which brands resonate with the deceased, but if it works it can be massive.”

So, how much do you evaluate your favorite celebrity’s death?