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Image: Warner Bros.

Warner Bros. is using personalized deepfakes for its latest movie promo

A screenshot of a Warner Bros. website promoting the movie “Reminiscence.”

Good morning, and welcome to Protocol Next Up. This week: How Warner Bros. is using AI to put viewers into its latest trailer, and what's new with streaming around the world.

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The Big Story

AI can put your face into a Warner Bros. trailer

Hollywood is embracing deepfakes, and we all can be a part of it: Warner Bros. has tapped synthetic media startup D-ID to promote its new movie "Reminiscence." A new website allows anyone to upload a photo, which D-ID's AI then turns into a moving deepfake video sequence in a short video clip promoting the film. I tried it and was impressed by the way D-ID's algorithms estimated facial movements just from a single photo.

D-ID actually started out as a privacy-focused startup, aiming to develop technology that protects consumers against facial recognition. Along the way, the startup's founders realized that the same technology could be used to optimize deepfakes. "We built a very strong face engine," D-ID CEO Gil Perry told me.

  • This allowed the company to reduce the amount of training data for its AI. Many competing solutions need multiple video clips, or at least a large amount of photos, to train an AI for creating deepfake videos.
  • D-ID's tech instead works with just a single photo, which is ideal for marketing campaigns like the one launched by Warner Bros.

The same tech also can bring dead people back to life. Before going live with the "Reminiscence" campaign, D-ID made headlines with its collaboration with MyHeritage, which allowed people to create videos from photos of deceased relatives. Critics called the feature creepy, but Perry claimed that 95% of the tweets about it were actually supportive. "It gave us confidence that we know what we are doing," he said. Plus, the media attention resulted in over 600 leads for new partnerships.

  • Next up: Taking deepfakes to the museum. D-ID is currently in active conversations with multiple museums about integrating its tech into exhibitions. The idea: Visitors will be able to scan a barcode next to an artwork to access a deepfake video of an artist talking about their work.

D-ID is just the latest in a string of startups to help Hollywood with synthetic media. AI has been used to dub movies, make commercials during lockdown, and, yes, add some controversial audio to the Anthony Bourdain documentary.

It may take a couple more years until AI can replace actors in Hollywood movies, but Perry told me that this is very much something his company and others are aiming for. "Our long-term vision is to create full productions using AI," he said.

  • Influencers may be first to trial this approach; Perry said that D-ID is looking to move from facial to full body animation. Putting this tech into the hands of TikTok and Instagram creators could help democratize video production, he argued.

However, deepfake generators may need some safeguards first. Given its background in privacy tech, D-ID is looking into ways to make sure its deepfakes aren't being used for manipulation and harassment, Perry said. "The most important thing is that it will not cause harm."

Overheard

"The metaverse is a dystopian nightmare."Fightin' words from Niantic CEO John Hanke.

"I don't think it's coming in the future, I think we're already in it." — "The Matrix" VFX lead John Gaeta has his own take on the metaverse.

"We will be raising some prices ahead of our next fiscal year." — Sonos CFO Brittany Bagley, laying out how the company will respond to continued component shortages and cost increases.

A MESSAGE FROM THOUSANDEYES

Outages aren't a matter of if, but when. According to data from ThousandEyes, global disruptions in March 2020 — when we saw remote work roll out at scale — were 63% higher than they were in January 2020.

Learn more

Watch Out

The latest on the state of streaming

Streaming media intelligence specialist Conviva published its latest quarterly "State of Streaming" report this week. There's a lot in there, and you might just want to read the whole thing if you are following this industry closely (Bonus: The report is free), but a few tidbits stood out to me:

  • Streaming grew 13% in Q2 compared to the same quarter last year. For better or for worse, we don't seem to be done with pandemic binging just yet.
  • Most of that growth happened elsewhere. North American viewing hours were up 2%, but streaming in South America grew by a whopping 192%. Muy impresionante!
  • Minutes per streaming session were down 3% globally, which Conviva attributes to a slow shift away from TV viewing back to mobile video. Insert a Quibi joke of your choice here.
  • 73% of global viewing hours happened on smart TVs and TV-connected streaming devices, with mobile accounting for just 11%.
  • 31% of those big-screen hours were watched on Roku devices, while Fire TV accounted for 18%. Google's platforms reached a combined 10% of viewing hours.
  • The biggest show on social media was "Grey's Anatomy," followed by Netflix's "Elite." I'm sure there's a parallel universe in which "Loki" won handily.

Fast Forward

  • El Rey cable network is getting a second chance online. Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez has teamed up with Cinedigm to turn El Rey into an ad-supported streaming channel.
  • On Protocol: Tidal COO Lior Tibon on life after the Square acquisition. It's been 100 days since Square bought Tidal, so we caught up with one of Tidal's key execs for an update.
  • Google wants to build a hardware hub in San Jose. The new office complex would consist of five buildings dedicated to hardware R&D.
  • On Protocol: Wi-Fi is becoming a smart home intelligence platform.
  • A hedge fund manager wants Disney to be more aggressive on streaming. Third Point's Daniel Loeb wants Disney to stop charging extra for new movies.
  • Sony's Funimation closes Crunchyroll acquisition. Bye, AT&T: The anime streaming service has officially switched owners.
  • AMC will start accepting bitcoin before the end of the year. I guess waiting for the network to confirm your transaction is one way to hold up the concession stand line.
  • LG's free video service gets a new interface. The pioneering ad-supported streaming service also gains another 300 channels.

Auf Wiedersehen

This looks amazing: General Mills has turned its Reese's Puffs cereal boxes into AR drum machines. Just put individual puffs onto a grid pattern printed on the back of the cereal box, and an AR web app turns those patterns into drum loops. My old pal Chris Albrecht tried it out and concluded that "using a cereal box to build your own beat sure beats digging for a cheap plastic toy at the bottom of one." Agreed! And now please excuse me, I urgently have to go buy some cereal.

Thanks for reading — see you next week!

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