Publishing leaders should focus on the strategic impact of generative AI

Generative AI

The rising hype around generative AI technologies since the November 2022 launch of ChatGPT has been staggering. The publicity surrounding a range of AI applications has swung from awe to horror as people wonder just what the future for the technology might hold.

For publishers, however, figuring out this new generation of AI tools is more than a philosophical exercise; they need to understand what impact it might have on their businesses.

Evolving experimentation
  • Structured experimentation with generative AI is already happening within leading publishing organizations. Digiday recently reported that publishers’ ‘informal dabbling’ with the technologies has become a key innovation focus for many media companies.
  • AI innovation teams have been set up at BuzzFeed, Forbes and Trusted Media Brands. All are focused on pushing forward AI initiatives and sharing learnings across different parts of their respective companies. Projects range from new product development to editorial efficiencies.
  • But isolated AI projects focused on productivity and efficiency enhancements, while valuable in themselves, will not be enough to give publishers a real generative AI advantage in the long term. Ezra Eeman, change director at Belgium’s Mediahuis recently told the World Association of News Publishers:

There needs to be more strategic, almost ‘Business School 101’ level thinking.

C-Suite thinking
    • The potential to use these technologies to differentiate your organization
    • The changes needed in organizational structures to support deployment
    • The policies that should be developed to ensure ethical and legal protections
  • BCG says in the introduction to its guide, a revolution in business-model innovation is coming and today’s ‘breathless activity’ needs to evolve into a generative AI strategy owned by the C-suite. It explains:

Much as Mosaic, the world’s first free web browser, ushered in the internet era and upended the way we work and live, generative AI has the potential to disrupt nearly every industry—promising both competitive advantage and creative destruction.

Strategic choices

BCG says the priority for CEOs should not be to immerse themselves in the details of these new technologies. Instead they should be considering how generative AI will impact their business and the strategic choices required to ‘exploit opportunities’ and ‘manage challenges’.

For Eeman at Mediahuis, the starting point is to ask where in the value chain AI will be a disruptor? He highlights content creation and discovery.

On content creation he says that if anyone can create anything, which is the promise of “text-to-anything” AI tools, everyone becomes a competitor. He explained:

There already is a maker economy that can create a lot of stuff, and now they have even more powerful tools to make even more content. That means the volume of content will explode.

With discovery, Eeman wonders if the ‘search-based’ internet – a huge driver of traffic to websites and apps – might completely change if ChatGPT plugins can pull content into the chat interface. He said:

Publishers invest in their own destinations in order to capture the value (audience data & monetisation). But if search as a traffic source is disrupted, it will become much harder to get that traffic to their own destinations.

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