TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Media heavyweights from around the world convened for the International Media Conference of Taipei (IMCT) on Wednesday (Nov. 1) to talk about the changing landscape of media business and the challenges posed by generative AI.
The triennial event resumed after a six-year hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, during which the media business environment changed significantly. That coincided with a sharp decline in print advertising revenue in most places, which is forecasted to be surpassed by online advertising between 2022 and 2023.
Redefine media business model
James Hewes speaks at the International Media Conference of Taipei on Nov. 1, 2023. (Taiwan News photo)
UK-based FIPP President and CEO James Hewes said at the event that the advent of new technology has changed how people consume news content. Cellphones, social media platforms, and, most recently, generative artificial intelligence tools are among the inventions accelerating the shift.
During the pandemic, paper circulation hit its lowest, but online advertising revenue was on the rise and forecasted to outnumber print sometime between 2022 and 2023, according to Hewes. Therefore, speakers advised the media to diversify revenue sources, rethink business models, and explore further possibilities.
Hewes took as an example the global recorded music industry, whose revenues surged to US$25.9 billion in 2022, a record high since 1999, in which streaming comprised a large revenue share. "With all the changes happening at once, you couldn't rely on one source of revenue," he said.
Next, Taboola VP of Greater China Eric Lee (李承隆) presented data on how social media dominates internet usage across the Asia Pacific region, in particular access to news information. He pointed out that nowadays, social media and search aggregators play a much bigger role in reader behavior. Data showed that a majority of Thailand, the Philippines, and Chile access news through social media platforms, while a majority of South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan consume news through search aggregators and social media platforms, said Lee.
Impact of generative AI on media business
At Wednesday's event, Hewes and Vox Media Publisher Melissa Bell shared their concerns over the emergence of generative AI and its threats to the media business. Although there is pessimism that it could be abused by bad actors to spread disinformation and manipulate minds, some speakers have high hopes for the tool. For instance, CommonWealth's Editor-in-Chief Silva Shih (史書華), who led the company's digital production team, believed the technology could help boost news production, including data analysis and fact-checking, at much lower costs.
In addition, Hewes complained that news content has been widely used to train AI systems without being asked for permission or being paid a dime. On top of the problem of copyright infringement, AI-generated content with purposedly-designed SEO dominates search results and affects legitimate publishers, Hewes added.
Generative AI could be used to push certain viewpoints in society and influence the population, he said. Hewes advised that media companies learn to mitigate the ways that bad actors could use generative AI and deepfake technology to propagate falsehoods by repurposing the tool on their fact-checking works.
Vox Media Publisher Melissa Bell gives a keynote speech at IMCT on Nov. 1, 2023. (Taiwan News photo)
"Social media platforms created chaos, but AI will make it worse," added Bell of Vox Media, which is known for upending the established ways that traditional news media organizations operate. She warned that news websites will be flooded with AI-driven, sub-quality news content or disinformation, which might push readers away. "That explains why news avoidance is on the rise," she said.
Bell also addressed an ethical dilemma of news paywalls. She said that although a paywall is good for business, it is not good for a healthy democracy. The majority of people would not be able to access quality news content, and robot-powered journalism would fill the void, she said.
As a result, Bell chose not to introduce a paywall for Vox but instead asked for financial contributions from readers to support the company's quality and informative journalism. Further, readers are encouraged to take part in their works, either through crowd reporting or sharing thought-provoking Vox stories to spark conversations, with a compelling mission statement to make an impact.
That worked on Vox, as a brand that caters to the community and upholds humanity, whose unique business model is one other media outlets look up to and follow. Building your community through Vox's example would be part of the solution, another speaker concluded, as generative AI poses threats to newsrooms.