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AI accelerationism spells the end of digital entertainment’s golden era

Cover image for AI accelerationism spells the end of digital entertainment’s golden era

Photo: OpenAI's DALL-E

Photo of Hanna Kahlert
by Hanna Kahlert

The hamster wheel of digital entertainment’s innovation is spinning faster than ever – but not going anywhere far.

Games’ move into streaming is bringing with it the same troubles as music and video are trying to fix. Social platforms, like Twitter and Meta, are trying to introduce subscription pricing to make up for lost ad revenue due to increased privacy measures. Video companies, like WarnerBros. Discovery, are moving back into partnered distribution, to offset streaming’s low margins.

AI and its endless offering of new content has accelerated content saturation. From images on Instagram generated by bots to ITV’s Deep Fake Neighbour Wars, in which celebrity faces are ‘deep faked’ onto other actors in a seem-parody of reality TV, it is easier than ever for anyone to add to the already-cluttered entertainment environment. It has also never been harder, as a user, to tell what is real.

This raises the legitimate question: has anything on the internet ever been real? Gone are the days of the grainy footage behind the original memes and viral videos; now everything is filtered, edited, reshot, maybe even artificially generated altogether. A search for authenticity is less an audience pushback so much as it is searching for a grounding point in a digital world that is increasingly untethered to anything but the concept of ‘more’. Audiences are real people, with real lives, real problems, and real needs: eating, sleeping, cleaning their houses, raising their kids, watering their plants, dealing with climate change. The digital world is predominately so unrelated to all of these things, the only people who can really spend that much time there are those with the privilege of having time to escape into it when things go badly. And when things go well, they do not really need it at all.

Social media has the benefit of being hugely addictive. Users try to quit Instagram the same way smokers try to give up cigarettes: after many attempts, with many relapses, if at all. Regulation will inevitably curb this in some way (or at least, it should). In the meantime, disillusionment is growing. What value do social platforms hold if they do not allow users to really interact with each other, leaving them mostly to react to content that is generated by a bot, created as an ad, or portraying an impossible version of aspirational reality? Why bother?

There are too many songs being released every day for listeners to both stay aware of everything out there, and still learn about and start to follow their favourite artists. There are too many films and TV shows being released every week to keep track of, or to hold on to the cultural zeitgeist for more than a week or two; gone are the sensational mega-hits of yesteryear.

What we will likely see, especially in the context of the continued cost-of-living crisis, is a return to analogue. Why buy the latest console, when you can buy an older one – where all the games cost only a fraction of the price as the latest releases? Access overtook ownership when a $9.99 monthly subscription could get you ad-free access to anything you could possibly want. But with prices rising, platform access changing, and ads creeping back in, ownership is a solid stake in a slippery slope that is shifting underfoot.

Entertainment went so hard on digital, it has become a commodity, and has now reached the upper limit of its probable potential; what else of value does it have to offer? A cultural kickback will increasingly pull back to the real world, and entertainment companies with increasingly digital-first media portfolios will need to remember the importance of balancing the value of diverse formats and audience touchpoints.

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