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Media braces for the robot era

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The rapid rise of generative AI tools like ChatGPT could displace dozens of media companies if they don’t move quickly to adapt to a new internet reality.

Why it matters: Facebook’s many pivots pushed media outlets to move their focus away from social media and toward search — but now experts predict another major disruption for publishers relying on search traffic.

“It’s an undoing of the robotic behavior with which we were already committing journalism, because it’s questionable whether writing about National Donut Day really served anybody,” said S. Mitra Kalita, a former CNN executive who has co-founded two new local media companies, Epicenter NYC and URL Media.

  • “In some ways, the work we were doing towards optimizing for SEO and trending content was robotic. Arguably, we were using what was trending on Twitter and Google to create the news agenda. What happened was a sameness across the internet.”

Driving the news: BuzzFeed last week said it is using OpenAI’s publicly available software, which is similar to the popular generative text site ChatGPT, to automatically publish quizzes, beginning this month.

  • “To be clear, we see the breakthroughs in AI opening up a new era of creativity that will allow humans to harness creativity in new ways with endless opportunities and applications for good,” the company’s CEO, Jonah Peretti, said in a memo to staffers.

BuzzFeed doesn’t plan to use AI to write journalistic articles, which seems to be a line that most publishers aren’t eager to cross.

  • But figuring out the right balance when using AI won’t be easy, as was made obvious by CNET’s AI mea culpa last month.
  • The CEO of Dotdash Meredith, a rival to CNET’s parent Red Ventures, told Axios last month that the firm “will never have an article written by a machine,” but it has already begun to bake AI into many of its workflows, like sourcing images.

Be smart: The past few years gave rise to a slew of successful digital media companies that focused on monetizing search traffic, while social media-reliant publishers struggled to adapt.

  • But the content that has done well on search, such as evergreen articles that help people answer questions or provide recommendations, is poised to be challenged by artificial intelligence.
  • “The most immediate impact of AI is probably that it becomes an efficiency tool,” said Brian Morrissey, former president and editor-in-chief of Digiday and author of a Substack newsletter on media called The Rebooting.

The big picture: Decades of constant pivots at the hands of Big Tech firms had media executives losing sight of which audiences they aimed to serve to begin with, Kalita noted.

  • ABC chief legal correspondent and media entrepreneur Dan Abrams said his media industry news site Mediaite began seeing record engagement once it started to push away from social media and search distribution.
  • The thinking has changed from “find the SEO angle” or “find the Facebook angle” to “find the Mediaite angle, and a large, loyal audience has followed,” Abrams said.
  • Around 16% of the site’s pageviews in 2022 came from homepage traffic, Abrams said.

What’s next: As search-based content becomes more commoditized, media brands will need to pivot towards serving specific audiences, rather than the masses.

  • “You’re going to have to get even more specialized as a publisher,” Morrissey said.

Bottom line: “Trying to compete on efficiency with robots never works, they always win,” Morrissey said.

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Ryan Reynolds BLEEDS for Deadpool! Sacrificed Salary to Keep Franchise Alive!

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Marvel fans, rejoice! After a whirlwind journey filled with setbacks and triumphs, Deadpool & Wolverine is finally clawing its way onto the silver screen. This highly anticipated pairing of Ryan Reynolds and Hugh Jackman has had its fair share of challenges, from production delays due to Hollywood strikes to struggling to solidify a cohesive storyline. But through it all, Reynolds’ unwavering dedication to the project has shone through, proving that sometimes, the biggest victories come from the most unexpected sacrifices.

The road to Deadpool & Wolverine began in May 2023 with a triumphant start to filming. However, that momentum was abruptly halted by a wave of strikes that swept through Hollywood, forcing a hiatus until late winter. This wasn’t the only obstacle the project faced. The creative team, including Reynolds himself, wrestled with crafting a narrative that lived up to the outrageous charm of the Deadpool character while seamlessly integrating Wolverine into the fold. There were even whispers of the entire project being shelved altogether, leaving fans anxious about the fate of this dream team.

 

Reynolds’ Pockets Take a Hit, But His Vision Persists

But amidst these uncertainties, a heartwarming detail recently emerged, shedding light on Reynolds’ incredible commitment to the Deadpool franchise. In a revealing interview with The New York Times, Reynolds opened up about the financial sacrifices he made to ensure the success of the original Deadpool film.

“Deadpool wasn’t just a movie; it was a decade-long passion project,” Reynolds confessed. “Honestly, when they finally greenlit it, I wasn’t thinking about box office numbers. I just wanted to see this crazy character come to life on screen. I even gave up my acting salary for the project just to get it off the ground.”

 

However, Reynolds’ generosity didn’t stop there. The studio, it seemed, wasn’t convinced of the importance of having the film’s screenwriters, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, readily available on set. “They wouldn’t allow my co-writers on set, which was a huge blow,” Reynolds continued. “So, I took what little money I had left after forgoing my salary and paid them myself to be there. We basically formed a makeshift writer’s room right there on set.”

This wasn’t the first instance of Reynolds’ financial commitment to the Deadpool universe. Writers Reese and Wernick had previously shared on the AMC show Geeking Out that Reynolds also personally financed aspects of Deadpool (2016) to ensure the film achieved the level of quality he envisioned.

 

A Commitment That Reaps Rewards

 

Looking back on the original film’s scrappy beginnings, Reynolds described it as a labor of love fueled by limited resources and boundless creativity. “There wasn’t a lot of money, but I poured my heart and soul into every detail,” he said. “That experience taught me a valuable lesson: the importance of having a strong creative team by your side, no matter the project.”

Reynolds’ unwavering dedication wasn’t just about financial backing; it was about safeguarding the film’s creative vision. His actions ensured that the core team behind Deadpool’s success – the writers, the director, and himself – remained on board to bring their vision to life. This commitment is sure to translate into Deadpool & Wolverine, a film that promises to be a landmark achievement in the wacky world of Deadpool. Mark your calendars, fans – Deadpool & Wolverine slashes into theaters on July 26th!

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Bob Newhart, deadpan comedy icon Dies at 94

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Bob Newhart, the deadpan accountant-turned-comedian who became one of the most popular TV stars of his time after striking gold with a classic comedy album, has died at 94.

Jerry Digney, Newhart’s publicist, says the actor died Thursday in Los Angeles after a series of short illnesses.

Newhart, best remembered now as the star of two hit television shows of the 1970s and 1980s that bore his name, launched his career as a standup comic in the late 1950s. He gained nationwide fame when his routine was captured on vinyl in 1960 as The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, which went on to win a Grammy Award as Album of the Year.

While other comedians of the time, including Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, Alan King, and Mike Nichols and Elaine May, frequently got laughs with their aggressive attacks on modern mores, Newhart was an anomaly. His outlook was modern, but he rarely raised his voice above a hesitant, almost stammering delivery. His only prop was a telephone, used to pretend to hold a conversation with someone on the other end of the line.

In one memorable skit, he portrayed a Madison Avenue image-maker trying to instruct Abraham Lincoln on how to improve the Gettysburg Address: “Say 87 years ago instead of fourscore and seven,” he advised.

Another favorite was Merchandising the Wright Brothers, in which he tried to persuade the aviation pioneers to start an airline, although he acknowledged the distance of their maiden flight could limit them. “Well, see, that’s going to hurt our time to the Coast if we’ve got to land every 105 feet.”

Newhart was initially wary of signing on to a weekly TV series, fearing it would overexpose his material. Nevertheless, he accepted an attractive offer from NBC, and The Bob Newhart Show premiered on Oct. 11, 1961. Despite Emmy and Peabody awards, the half-hour variety show was canceled after one season, a source for jokes by Newhart for decades after.

He waited 10 years before undertaking another Bob Newhart Show in 1972. This one was a situation comedy with Newhart playing a Chicago psychologist living in a penthouse with his schoolteacher wife, Suzanne Pleshette. Their neighbors and his patients, notably Bill Daily as an airline navigator, were a wacky, neurotic bunch who provided an ideal counterpoint to Newhart’s deadpan commentary. The series, one of the most acclaimed of the 1970s, ran through 1978.

Four years later, the comedian launched another show, simply called Newhart. This time he was a successful New York writer who decides to reopen a long-closed Vermont inn. Again Newhart was the calm, reasonable man surrounded by a group of eccentric locals. Again the show was a huge hit, lasting eight seasons on CBS. It bowed out in memorable style in 1990 with Newhart — in his old Chicago psychologist character — waking up in bed with Pleshette, cringing as he tells her about the strange dream he had: “I was an innkeeper in this crazy little town in Vermont. … The handyman kept missing the point of things, and then there were these three woodsmen, but only one of them talked!” The stunt parodied a Dallas episode where a key character was killed off, then revived when the death was revealed to have been in a dream.

Two later series were comparative duds: Bob, in 1992-93, and George & Leo, 1997-98. Though nominated several times, he never won an Emmy for his sitcom work. “I guess they think I’m not acting. That it’s just Bob being Bob,” he sighed.

Over the years, Newhart also appeared in several movies, usually in comedic roles. Among them: Catch 22, In & Out, Legally Blonde 2, and Elf, as the diminutive dad of adopted full-size son Will Ferrell. More recent work included Horrible Bosses and the TV series The Librarians, The Big Bang Theory, and Young Sheldon.

Newhart married Virginia Quinn, known to friends as Ginny, in 1964, and remained with her until her death in 2023. They had four children: Robert, Timothy, Jennifer, and Courtney. Newhart was a frequent guest of Johnny Carson’s and liked to tease the thrice-divorced Tonight host that at least some comedians enjoyed long-term marriages. He was especially close with fellow comedian and family man Don Rickles, whose raucous insult humor clashed memorably with Newhart’s droll understatement.

“We’re apples and oranges. I’m a Jew, he’s a Catholic. He’s low-key, I’m a yeller,” Rickles told Variety in 2012. A decade later, Judd Apatow would pay tribute to their friendship in the short documentary Bob and Don: A Love Story.

A master of the gently sarcastic remark, Newhart got into comedy after he became bored with his $5-an-hour accounting job in Chicago. To pass the time, he and a friend, Ed Gallagher, began making funny phone calls to each other. Eventually, they decided to record them as comedy routines and sell them to radio stations.

Their efforts failed, but the records came to the attention of Warner Bros., which signed Newhart to a record contract and booked him into a Houston club in February 1960. “A terrified 30-year-old man walked out on the stage and played his first nightclub,” he recalled in 2003.

Six of his routines were recorded during his two-week date, and the album, The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart, was released on April Fools’ Day 1960. It sold 750,000 copies and was followed by The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back!. At one point the albums ranked No. 1 and 2 on the sales charts. The New York Times in 1960 said he was “the first comedian in history to come to prominence through a recording.”

Besides winning Grammy’s Album of the Year for his debut, Newhart won as Best New Artist of 1960, and the sequel The Button-Down Mind Strikes Back! won as Best Comedy Spoken Word Album. Newhart was booked for several appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and at nightclubs, concert halls, and college campuses across the country. He hated the clubs, however, because of the heckling drunks they attracted. “Every time I have to step out of a scene and put one of those birds in his place, it kills the routine,” he said in 1960.

In 2004, he received another Emmy nomination, this time as Guest Actor in a Drama Series, for a role in E.R. Another honor came his way in 2007, when the Library of Congress announced it had added The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart to its registry of historically significant sound recordings. Just 25 recordings are added each year to the registry, which was created in 2000.

Newhart made the best-seller lists in 2006 with his memoir, I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This!. He was nominated for another Grammy for Best Spoken Word Album (a category that includes audio books) for his reading of the book.

“I’ve always likened what I do to the man who is convinced that he is the last sane man on Earth … the Paul Revere of psychotics running through the town and yelling `This is crazy.′ But no one pays attention to him,” Newhart wrote.

Born George Robert Newhart in Chicago to a German-Irish family, he was called Bob to avoid confusion with his father, who was also named George. At St. Ignatius High School and Loyola University in Chicago, he amused fellow students with imitations of James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Durante, and other stars. After receiving a degree in commerce, Newhart served two years in the Army. Returning to Chicago after his military service, he entered law school at Loyola, but flunked out. He eventually landed a job as an accountant for the state unemployment department. Bored with the work, he spent his free hours acting at a stock company in suburban Oak Park, an experience that led to the phone bits.

“I wasn’t part of some comic cabal,” Newhart wrote in his memoir. “Mike (Nichols) and Elaine (May), Shelley (Berman), Lenny Bruce, Johnny Winters, Mort Sahl — we didn’t all get together and say, Let’s change comedy and slow it down.′ It was just our way of finding humor. The college kids would hear mother-in-law jokes and say, What the hell is a mother-in-law?′ What we did reflected our lives and related to theirs.”

Newhart continued appearing on television occasionally after his fourth sitcom ended and vowed in 2003 that he would work as long as he could. “It’s been so much, 43 years of my life; (to quit) would be like something was missing,” he said.

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Avril Lavigne Rocks Glastonbury Amidst Bizarre Conspiracy Theory

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Avril Lavigne’s electrifying performance on Glastonbury’s Other Stage had the crowd roaring with approval. However, for some in the audience, a lingering question might have remained: “Was that truly Avril Lavigne on stage?”  The Canadian pop-punk icon finds herself at the center of one of the internet’s most outlandish conspiracy theories.

 

From Let Go to Let Go of the Rumors? The Enduring Conspiracy Theory

The rumour, which can be traced back to a 2011 Brazilian blog post, posits a shocking twist: the real Avril Lavigne tragically died shortly after the release of her smash-hit debut album “Let Go” in 2002.  According to the theory, a look-alike named Melissa Vandella was brought in to replace her and continue her musical career.  The bizarre notion gained further traction with the release of the BBC podcast “Who Replaced Avril Lavigne?” which explored the theory in detail.

 

Lavigne Laughs it Off on Call Her Daddy Podcast

Appearing on the popular podcast “Call Her Daddy” hosted by Alex Cooper, Lavigne addressed the elephant in the room, or rather, the doppelgänger on the internet.  “It’s just funny to me,” she said, acknowledging the contrasting compliments she receives about her youthful appearance.  “Some people say I haven’t aged a day, while others believe I’m an impostor!” she explained.

 

Lavigne Finds Humor in the Absurd

Surprisingly chill about the whole ordeal, Lavigne seemed to find humour in the conspiracy theory.  “Honestly, it could be worse conspiracy theories out there,” she joked.  “I guess I got a good one!” she added, playfully downplaying the absurdity of the rumour.  Even when Cooper playfully prodded, asking if it wasn’t at least a little creepy, Lavigne remained unfazed.  She pointed out other artists who have been targeted by similar outlandish stories.

 

Fueling the Fire or Closing the Case?

However, Cooper couldn’t resist a final confirmation, perhaps for the benefit of any lingering doubters.

“Your name is Avril Lavigne, right?” she asked.  Lavigne’s response?  “I knew you half-believed it!”

This playful non-denial might fuel the fire for some conspiracy theorists.  Did Avril Lavigne address the rumour head-on, or simply add another layer of mystery to the already outlandish story?

 

One thing’s for sure, Avril Lavigne, or perhaps Melissa Vandella according to some, knows how to keep the conversation going.  While her Glastonbury performance silenced any doubts about her musical talent, the question of her true identity, at least for some, remains a lingering internet mystery.

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