- Web3 is defined/enabled by next-gen technologies, including the cloud, blockchain, AR/VR.
- Content is still the key differentiator. But how and where you distribute and market that content is also key to survival.
- Community has always been key to the online experience. Virtual reality is now beginning to enable the next iteration of how we interact with each other in Web3.
- Don’t discount gaming. It’s a direct competitor to video because there are only so many hours in a day.
In this episode of Web3 Amplified (watch ⏯️ or listen 🎧 above), Lori H. Schwartz chats with Ira Rubenstein about content distribution and public media’s competition in a Web3 world. They also discuss how AI tools like chatGPT will affect the future of content creation.
Rubenstein is chief digital and marketing officer at PBS. He focuses on continuing PBS’ digital evolution through the development, implementation and scaling of digital services and marketing content strategies. He also oversees the business intelligence group and leads comprehensive marketing programs to acquire, retain, and engage audiences across platforms for member stations.
Prior to his work at PBS, Rubenstein headed up mobile media company MeeMee Media and also had a stint as EVP of digital marketing for 20th Century Fox.
Following, Fast, Into Web3
Rubenstein describes “Web3 as a collection of next-gen tools.”
Specifically, he calls out: “Really, fully embracing the cloud. I think Web3 is fully embracing data and leveraging data. I think Web3 is embracing blockchain. I’m going to stay away from crypto, but blockchain technology, which encompasses, of course, lots of things. And then I think Web3 also is about VRML, as well as augmented reality.”
The nature of public media requires Rubenstein and his team to be good stewards of “limited resources.” However, he keeps an eye on trends and aims to have PBS be “a fast follower,” even if his team can’t “always have the resources to try and fully innovate at the forefront.”
Whenever something new comes down the pike, Rubenstein says he considers, “How would I use these tools, these platforms — Web3 — as a distribution platform to get our existing content out, as well as create new content that our PBS like onto these platforms?”
And in his role as CMO, Rubenstein contemplates, “How do I leverage these four new tools to help drive the message of the type of content we have at PBS and the type of content our local member stations produce?”
Going back to being a fast follower, Rubenstein knows he, and many others, are tasked with evaluating up-and-coming technology and then implementing it according his organization’s needs and goals.
Testing the Web3 Waters: Crypto and VR
For PBS, ventures into cryptocurrency and virtual reality were both driven by consumer demand.
Because member stations really are viewer-funded, individual stations had to determine a policy around crypto donations. Rubenstein’s team was tasked with the “how” part, and he proffered different, pre-existing wallet options, rather than building out a specialized (and expensive) “crypto donation platform.” Cost-effective and flexible.
Perhaps a more surprising example comes in the form of the PBS Short Film Festival. Films are sourced variously, including from member stations. Rubenstein championed a VRML platform as a means to showcase VR content as well as reach viewers who are already occupying the VRML world.
“It’s in a virtual world,” Rubenstein emphasizes. “How do you bring content? How do you bring marketing messages that resonate into that community for what they want to engage with and talk about, and hopefully, consume?” The film fest is one answer.
Connecting in Web3
Rubenstein advises those who want to understand the future of technology to embrace it via play and experimentation.
“I like playing around with technology,” Rubenstein says. But more than that, he says he’s “always been able to just look at it and see and play with it and then think about, “Okay, how is this going to help me in doing what we need to do in distribution? How is this going to help us in doing what we need to do in marketing?'”
Rubenstein says that same approach is useful in for other roles: “Come at these technologies thinking about ‘How I can use it to further my goals in what I have to do every day?’ And if you do that, I think you’ll think of creative ways that you might want to try something here and there, without going full on in and tweaking the whole boat basically.”
At PBS, Rubenstein can deploy his small but mighty R&D team to experiment. That may not be a luxury everyone can afford.
Additionally, if you’re not quite as comfortable with emerging tech as Rubenstein is, you have a third alternative: turn to the (dreaded) Gen Z cohort for inspiration or assistance.
Rubenstein says, “My advice, whether you’re a seasoned executive or an up-and-coming [player], is to actually play around with it. And if you’re lucky to have children, ask them and they will show you” what you can do with technology.
To put a finer point on it, Rubenstein has a 22 year-old son, who he says is “spending an awful lot of time in the VR world these days.” For his age group, that means VRML social clubs and online hangouts. Observing this behavior, Rubenstein is reminded that “communities in the internet are not new. Going all the way back to my pre-web days, AOL, CompuServe – we were serving communities of interest.”
Some Things Are New in Web3, Though
The desire for connections may be a constant throughout the ages, but artificial intelligence’s advanced capabilities are a truly new element of Web3.
Rubenstein notes that AI face-swapping apps, AI-generated audio clips, video dupes, and more have been around for some time.
But consumer-facing tools are increasingly convincing and effective. AI image generator DALL•E and chatbot ChatGPT both caused quite a stir in 2022, prompting creatives and knowledge workers to consider the security of their livelihoods.
Rubenstein says, “Someone even told me, “I don’t think I need my lawyer anymore to write terms of services anymore.” (Neither PBS nor NAB Amplify recommend eliminating your legal department.)
“It’s very powerful, but I still think making content is hard,” Rubenstein acknowledges. “And I think there’s still going to be a human element.”
He’s also a bit of a techno-optimist, siding with those who hope AI will improve content creation without eliminating its soul. “But could that these AI help you make it cheaper and better, in a way, so you can make more of it and more accessible to everyone?”
“I think it’s exciting. I don’t think we know quite where it’s going to go. But what I do think is that it’s going to make making content a little bit easier but at the end of the day, I think they’re still going to have to have that human touch.”
It’s easy to see how artificial intelligence is appealing to someone whose job is to ask: “How can we innovate at scale to bring the most powerful tools to the system?”
AI is already aiding in content proliferation, but don’t expect it to help with the “quality over quantity” problem.
Rubenstein’s focus, naturally, is on the survival of local public media stations. PBS affiliates survived the advent of cable television because, he says, “public media content is different and it is higher quality.”
However, Rubenstein is aware that Web2 is already presenting many challenges: “You’re now competing against the history of film and TV every single night, on top of whatever local live event is coming.” And that’s in addition to content created for “YouTube, TikTok, VRML, OTT, wherever…”
Rubenstein also cautions M&E pros not to forget that “gaming continues to grow, and I think people really underestimate how much time is spent on gaming, especially in that younger demographic. And that’s a real threat because there’s only so much time in the day.”
Nonetheless, Rubenstein says, “We just have to maintain focus on who we are and who we serve, and it is hard when there’s so much change going on. But staying true to who we are, I think is really important… advice to other media companies. [You’ve] really got to understand who you are and who your audience is and just keep the noise down, and don’t have this fear of missing out. Because people, when they make knee-jerk decisions and they panic, they make wrong decisions and they end up paying for it later.”
You can learn more about Rubenstein’s efforts at PBS.org.