Blended CTV Ad Inventory Is Bigger Risk To Writers & Actors Than AI

  • by , Featured Contributor, September 14, 2023
The following was previously published in an earlier edition of Media Insider.

The Writers Guild of America has been on strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers for more than three months now. SAG-AFTRA, the actors union, began striking a few weeks ago.

An enormous issue in the joint strike is how the movie, television and video streaming industry will treat actors and writers in the fast-emerging world of artificial intelligence (AI), where well-trained content bots can create not only scripts but full sight, sound and motion scenes with lifelike actors, and no humans involved except for the prompt engineers -- the ones who instruct the AI bots.

Of course, Hollywood writers and actors are concerned about AI, which is going to massively disrupt their industry. So this is a good time to try to lock in restrictions and rules around AI in their contracts, if they can.

However, as big a threat AI might be to human writing and acting over time, I don’t think it’s the ultimate threat they face to their long-term livelihood today.



The role of true creativity in film, and the need to train bots on real humans and real human experiences and expressions, make it unlikely for AI-driven productions to just replace people. Most likely, the technology will become an enabling capability for writers and actors who can best leverage the new technology, not unlike how film expanded the world for writers, and films with sound and then color changed and expanded the world for actors.

A more pronounced threat to writers’ and actors’ livelihood today and tomorrow is from ad-tech platforms that destroy billions of dollars of value in TV and streaming video by shifting high-value ad dollars away from their products and into fake media inventory: “made-for-advertising” sites linked to search pages, or sites with unviewable video or sound off.

Pools of this junk inventory are injected into the ad ecosystem at low prices through “open” sell-side and demand-side platforms: the enablers. The inventory is bought by agencies trying to meet irrationally low CPM expectations of clients, which are being constantly refreshed and reinforced by the ease of availability of this cheap, junk inventory blended with real stuff.

This blended inventory makes it through the digital ad systems thanks to co-mingled economics among almost everyone in the supply chain, including many of those whose ostensible job it is to verify that inventory and ad targets are legit.

How much money is at stake? Well, the ANA recently told us that more than $20 billion is wasted each year. And that siphoning is not just about the wrong people getting those ad dollars, but the right people not getting them.

Sounds a bit farfetched that this is an issue for writers and actors? Some might have thought the same thing 20 years ago about newspaper and magazine journalists. But the fact that programmatic digital ad systems siphoned high-value local and niche ad spend away from the publications that paid their salaries and into pretty junky knockoffs, played a big part in the demise of their former employers (just to be clear, newspaper and magazine companies also did lots of stupid and arrogant stuff that helped kill them).

Could the undermining of legit video content by siphoning off ad spend to junk inventory be as big a threat to writers and actors as AI? I think so. What about you?

4 comments about "Blended CTV Ad Inventory Is Bigger Risk To Writers & Actors Than AI".
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  1. JIM HOPES from Topline Consulting, September 14, 2023 at 5 p.m.

    I couldn't agree more, Dave. Every time I allow myself to follow an appealling headline that includes a story with two paragraphs per page and prompts me click the next page to read more I feel sorry for the dozen or advertisers who paid anything to crowd the margins with cheap ads.  Even if I am the right person to reach I could't possibly even notice, no less interact with a hundred ads crowded onto ten pages supported by scant content.

    $20 billion funs a lot of quality content creation.

  2. Gabe Greenberg from Octillion Media, September 14, 2023 at 5:24 p.m.

    Dave completely agree. There are far too many companies and platforms that are more focused on growth and margin than on trust and transparency. This careless approach (often rewarded by buyers who either don't know any better or are as complicit as the platfotm) poses an existential threat to the guilds, advertisers and agencies! 

    In fact a CEO of one of these platforms even penned an article in AdWeek that tried to suggest that fraud and transparency should not matter if they could drive business outcomes. 

    If the guilds and more buyers would actually focus their relationships more on trust - real earned trust by companies who do what they say and say what they do, we'd not be having this dialogue.

    I believe establishing trust and delivering on our promises, even at times to the cost of margin or growth provides long term stability and benefit to the ecosystem as a whole. 

  3. Dave Morgan from Simulmedia replied, September 14, 2023 at 5:53 p.m.

    Spot on Jim. So we'll descibed the mess that we've enabled.

  4. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 15, 2023 at 9:10 a.m.

    Probably the biggest threat to writers, actors, directors, etc. is the impending implosion of companies that license their work and present it to the public. Over the years we have seen a huge increase, first in the numbers of independent TV stations, then cable channels---many of them---and now various types of streaming services. Way back in the pre-cable era typical adult living in a TV home "watched" about 3.0-3.5 hours of TV per day---though not necessarily at full attention or even while in the room. Why so lttle? Simple, there were only 5-10 channels per TV home and many fewer programs to select from. Under these conditions there was enough viewing to allow most of the programmers to operate profitably---the sole exceptions being many small market TV stations.

    Not surprisingly, as the number of program sources expanded to well over 200 per TV home and the amount of available content increased ten - and twenty fold and beyond, viewing also increased---but only to about 4.5-5.0 hours per day per  adult---again with the same caveats as before. This is simply not enough viewing time to support all of the program sources so many will start to disappear---first to go will be the smaller audience cable channels, then many of the streaming services---FASTS very likely----followed by many TV stations in smaller markets. 

    What does this mean? Again, the answer seems obvious. There will be fewer high cost "quality" productions and an ever greater reliance on reruns and low budget content--reality shows, talking head shows, varieties, etc. Which means less work for the actors, writers, directors, etc.

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