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AI and the Future of Media - A Leadership Talk with Marc Siry

headshot of Marc Siry, Meta
Marc Siry, Meta

From comic book artist and creative designer to business leader and technology strategist, Marc Siry has had a dynamic and multi-faceted career. In his current role at Meta as a leader in Strategic Partnerships, Siry works with partners in the ISP (Internet Service Provider) and consumer connectivity space to enable emerging Metaverse experiences in people's homes, offices, and other shared environments. In a recent Leadership Talk, he sat with FUTURE NOW Founder & CEO, Margaret “Peggy” Kim, and shared about his remarkable career journey, insights on the ever-changing media landscape, and the opportunities and challenges he sees on the horizon. Siry remarked, “It is both thrilling and terrifying to see all the changes that are coming through.” Siry broke into the industry right out of high school working at Marvel Comics as an intern and assistant editor. After attending the School of Visual Arts, he went on to work in various roles as an artist, designer, programmer, and creative director at corporate media giants like Fox, Disney, AOL, and NBCUniversal.

When Comcast acquired NBCUniversal, Siry pivoted from content to distribution. He immersed himself in business and technology and thinking more holistically and strategically about the future of the industry and how companies can best position themselves for success.

Kim remarked that in recent years, the industry has seen an unprecedented rate of change due to technological advancements. “It feels like everything has sped up in the last 5 years. We have not seen this rate of change before, and there is so much stress right now in the industry.”

Siry agreed, but noted, “The entertainment industry is remarkably durable. Entertainment has been here since the beginning of time, and it will be here at the end of time.”

At the same time, he acknowledged that this rapid pace of change can lead to anxiety and despair within the industry, but noted the importance of looking beyond the immediate challenges and focusing on adaptation. “It has to do with where you place your vision and what you're following as you advance in your career. Make sure that in the face of the unknown, you are moving forward and learning and adapting rather than letting that pace of change scare you into submission.”

One of the most significant challenges facing the media industry is the emergence of AI and its potential implications: “The most unknowable thing is what AI will do to the media business and the people who work in it. It’s going to drastically change the way businesses and deals are structured.”

Siry highlighted the power of AI-driven platforms like Midjourney, which can generate entire visual worlds within seconds. While this technology opens up exciting possibilities, it also raises concerns about ownership and authenticity: “Every one of these images was remixed from the hard work of an actual artist somewhere. Someone who is now not being compensated for their work is not being recognized for their work. What we have now is a plagiarism machine.”

He hypothesized that the integration of AI into our society “will spawn a new segment of the business that is focused on authenticity and origination and tracing the provenance of creativity in a way that we never had to worry about before.”

Kim brought up that AI has already been disrupting the music industry, where it enables the reimagination of hit songs with the AI-generated voices of celebrities and artists. Siry raised questions about how artists and their families can benefit from AI-generated content based on their original works. For example, “If you want your movie narrated by Morgan Freeman you don’t need to talk to Morgan Freeman anymore. The question is, how does Morgan Freeman benefit from that? How do his family and his estate once he has passed on benefit from that? How do you put that IP genie back in the bottle?

“Swipes, homages, inspiration, and fair use have always existed, but now it’s all getting thrown into this cloud where the usage of it is so much more widespread that the harm can also be commensurately greater to the livelihood of the folks who relied on the scarcity of creativity”, Siry explained.

Kim asked, “With blockchain, NFTs, and generative AI, what is the intersection of these assets at this point? Does blockchain help with provenance?” Siry underscored the significance of these technologies in registering that the concept of an image is the property of someone and assuring that that person will be compensated.

“When NFTs first started to hit the public consciousness, there was a lot of ridicule because of the form they were taking like bored apes. People would look at these things and say, ‘It’s just a jpeg,’ but when you think about how you trace ownership, IP, and provenance of an image on the internet, NFTs are the way forward with that."

Siry discussed the evolving nature of media consumption, highlighting the shift towards personalization and placing the viewer at the center of the experience: “The next step is where media will become generative, where not only will you be able to inhabit a world, you will be able to create that world.” Immersive media platforms such as Oculus, Roblox, and Fortnite enable users to embody themselves within virtual worlds, fostering an even deeper level of personalization and blurring the line between audience and creator.

Siry warned that this trend carries the risk of isolating individuals within their own generated realities, hindering broader societal discourse. “That sounds exciting at the surface level, but it is also terrifying because we’re then at risk of becoming a nation of people who have withdrawn into their own generated worlds. We’ll be cutting each other off from the discourse that I think people miss from the old days of everybody experiencing the same media at the same time.”

“We already see a form of this on social media, where you start to really connect with people who are more like-minded and block people who might be challenging your assumptions.”

The rise of generative media poses challenges to traditional media companies as well. Companies must adapt and find ways to create value by engaging individuals on a more personalized level.

“Immersive media didn’t replace social media, online media, or linear media. CBS, NBC, ABC, and New York Times still exist. They have all, in certain ways, inhabited and moved on through each of these levels of media. The question is how do you move your model from one level to the next and retain your audience and your ability to monetize your audiences?” This is the biggest question and the biggest pain point for traditional media companies as we transition from one form of media consumption to another.

With concerns over AI replacing jobs in the creative industry, Siry encouraged artists and designers to shift their perspective: “Get yourself out of the tool and into the result. Think to the next level about how you can manage that tool and what that tool can do for you. Take yourself out of worrying about being replaced by this tool and instead be relieved that the tool is going to do the work for you. Now you can become the manager, strategic director, or owner.”

So how can we use AI as a tool instead of seeing it as our enemy? Siry responded, “I would use it as a thought starter and swipe file. Once you have an idea, you should be able to reference it for inspiration to kickstart your own creativity.”

Rather than viewing AI as a competitor, he suggests embracing it as a powerful tool that can augment and enhance their work. By leveraging AI as a thought starter, artists can elevate their creativity to new heights. “The people who are thinking about that now are going to be the ones moving forward in the world with confidence. The folks who are trying to prevent it from happening are unfortunately going to be overtaken by events.”

Siry concluded the talk with advice for the early professionals in the audience: “What I hope everyone takes away is to not be afraid to ask for help from people who have been there before because everybody else has gotten help too. No one got to where they are 100% on their own.”

“If you look at where I started and where I am now, I owe a lot to the people who have mentored me and who have helped me see what the next big thing is. It’s so easy to get focused on what's right in front of you and so easy to over-index on what you're hearing now that you lose sight of the horizon that’s farther down the line.”



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