AI is an opportunity for creative industries, says Bertelsmann boss

Artificial intelligence is more of an opportunity than a threat for creative industries, the head of Europe’s biggest media group has said in defiance of warnings about the dangers of generative AI.

Thomas Rabe, chief executive of the German business that owns the book publisher Penguin Random House and the music label BMG, said that although there were “major questions” about copyright protection, the technology was “on balance . . . probably more of an opportunity”.

“I really think generative AI is an inflection point” for society, the Bertelsmann chief executive told the Financial Times. “It can be very positive provided we stay on top of it and understand its potential and threats.”

Several big music companies have nevertheless been alarmed by the rise of AI-generated songs, which alongside increased popularity of ambient music has contributed to them losing market share on streaming platforms.

Spotify earlier this month removed tens of thousands of tracks produced by the AI start-up Boomy after it came under pressure to take action from industry incumbents including Universal Music.

Rabe, who has headed the privately owned Bertelsmann since 2012, said creative industries were entering “uncharted territory” when it came to protecting the work of their authors and artists.

Using works by well-known authors or artists as input for software so it can produce new content “could be a copyright infringement” and was being examined by the company’s legal experts, he said.

However, Rabe also argued that a proliferation of AI-generated books and articles of varying quality would increase the value of works from respected sources.

He said that there were even opportunities for authors to augment their output by feeding software with their previous output to generate new content. “If it’s your content, for which you own the copyright, and then you use it to train the software, you can in theory generate content like never before.”

Rabe is the latest media chief executive to play down potential difficulties posed by AI. Mark Read, chief of advertising company WPP, last month argued that using AI systems to help create campaigns would be a “massive opportunity to optimise” creative work.

Rabe, 57, said that he was seeking to promote understanding of AI across Bertelsmann and its subsidiaries.

The technology is already being deployed across several divisions. The TV production company Fremantle is using AI to dub shows such as The X Factor and the Got Talent franchise into Arabic.

BMG and the broadcaster RTL Netherlands, which is owned by the group, are working together to develop ways to use AI to automatically pick appropriate background music for trailers for TV shows.

And a group of Bertelsmann media outlets are using AI to analyse emotions of protagonists in TV programmes to help place adverts that fit with the content. 

Rabe revealed that he was an enthusiastic personal user of the “impressive” ChatGPT, saying that it was already enhancing his job as a chief executive.

He recently used the chatbot to help him prepare for a staff event at Penguin Random House’s office in Munich. “I asked ChatGPT what the impact of ChatGPT or generative AI is on publishing. It prepared a phenomenal text. Frankly, it was pretty detailed and to the point.”

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