What happens when you place the leaders of three of the largest trade associations that serve three of the busiest sectors of the media industry on the stage in a ballroom, mix with the current political climate, advertising and tax issues, AI and other new technologies, and blend with global economic issues? For attendees of MFM's 2023 Annual Conference in late May, it was an eye-opening lesson in what these executives grapple with daily on behalf of the members of the associations they each helm.
With topics ranging from legislation in Congress to artificial intelligence to obstacles posed by the tech behemoths, Curtis LeGeyt, President CEO of the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters), Stanley Pierre-Louis, President and CEO of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) and Danielle Coffey, President and CEO (as of June 2023) of the N/MA (News Media Alliance) each offered their take on the latest developments in the nation's capital. (LeGeyt, Pierre-Louis, Coffey and Pekrul are pictured at top, left to right.)
"A View from the Capitol" panelists (L to R): Curtis LeGeyt, President & CEO, NAB (National Association of Broadcasters); Stanley Pierre-Louis, President & CEO, ESA (Entertainment Software Association); Danielle Coffey, President & CEO, N/MA (News Media Alliance); and moderator Cindy Pekrul, NBCU.
Pekrul kicked off the discussion with a query around current legislation. One of the bills at the top of the list, which affects newspapers and broadcasters, is the JCPA, or the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, which has been in "hurry up and wait" mode since it was introduced in March 2021. As of this writing the bill continues its upward battle, with supporters and detractors on all sides.
Not surprisingly, N/MA has been very vocally in favor of the legislation since its inception, so Coffey jumped right in. "It's simple: Journalism content is not compensated," she said. "It's currently a broken marketplace -- a 'David vs. Goliath' situation, with Big Tech using scare tactics.
"If we want quality content, we need to compensate those who create its market value for publishers," she continued. "Quality news is getting drowned out with misinformation."
"This legislation has shined a light on how much these tech companies have disrupted the media landscape," LeGeyt added. "They're acting as gatekeepers, sucking the ad revenue away." He noted that most media companies can't grow at the same rates Big Tech can. "Unregulated competitors have nationwide scale, and it's hard to convince Democrats that a loose balance is effective," he explained. "Right now, I'm having more successful conversations with Republicans."
But LeGeyt ended his comments on an optimistic note. "This bill has picked up momentum because it satisfies the ideologies of both parties," he said.
Moving on to generative AI -- one of the most-discussed topics of the entire conference -- Pekrul asked each panelist how they think AI will affect their industry.
Pierre-Louis took a mostly positive tone. "There's a lot of tension and excitement around it," he said. "Gameplay has incorporated AI and machine learning for a long time." He noted that while generative AI opens possibilities for work such as journalism, "you still need a human element to make the game special for our users. Without that you lose some creativity."
LeGeyt struck a darker note, quoting Daniel Anstandig, CEO of Futuri, who presented a breakout session on AI in media the previous afternoon: "An asteroid is coming." He said he thinks there are some beneficial elements of AI that will enable local stations to do more hyper-local work, such as in-language programming and night shift staffing for TV and radio. "If [AI] can serve them better, I'm all for it," he said. "But the tech platforms currently have a hard time determining the source of the content being output, and it's integrated from multiple sources."
Coffey followed LeGeyt's lead, repeating N/MA's concern around compensation for content. "There's no business model in AI, no attribution, no clicks. Monetization is critical," she declared. "And what about the transparency of information sources -- is it trustworthy? What do we attach to that content that shows where it's going? We need a 'white hat' for accountability and to rub away the immunity the platforms have."
The discussion touched on advertising and taxes, with Pierre-Louis commenting, "We're seeing growth in digital taxes. When you download a game, are you being taxed in the state where the content resides, or where the user is?"
LeGeyt discussed the delicate balance between trying to address pharmaceutical advertising issues without opening up the entire advertising industry.
The session ended with each panelist offering their thoughts on the future of their industries.
"Our industry is exploring, inventing, and accelerating, but at an opposite trajectory to their revenue," Coffey asserted.
"Games are now being made everywhere by companies of all sizes," Pierre-Louis said. "There's a lot of M&A, and a lot of entrepreneurial innovation and growth potential in our industry."
"We see huge growth potential. We want to preserve the old business model but move forward with the new business model. There are tensions with all of it, but as long as we do what we do best, like providing uniquely local content, we're going to continue to have a very bright future," LeGeyt concluded.
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