Organisations in the media industry have reason to be seriously concerned about the pernicious effects of easily generated fake news, manipulated variants of images and video assets, and a lack of transparency and accountability for content on major distribution platforms. There is a long history of fakery and deception in the media industry, but concerns have grown due to innovations in digital technologies such as artificial intelligence.
Looking forward to 2030, these challenges might become overwhelming as malicious actors exploit the lack of verifiable sources. The danger is, perhaps, that fact-checking efforts and the market value of creative media assets in general could be undermined without reliable source verification mechanisms.
The media industry must address this threat as a matter of urgency and prioritise the development and adoption of content provenance practices to minimise risk. Best practices should include implementing technological solutions, fostering media literacy and critical thinking skills, encouraging transparency and accountability from content producers and platforms, and establishing collaborations among key stakeholders to combat misinformation effectively.
Provenance in the world of fine art is similar to content provenance in digital media, as they both seek to establish the origin and authenticity of an asset. In the art world, claiming to have discovered a new Vincent Van Gogh painting means very little without being able to show that the work has provenance, which validates the history of the artwork in terms of ownership, exhibitions and purchases. In digital media, content provenance similarly seeks to verify the origin and authenticity of content such as images, videos or news articles – even if they have been legitimately edited during a creative process. Using digital content provenance creates a trail of origin and modifications, similar to how written provenance documents the physical history of a Van Gogh artwork.
The existence of such provenance also greatly impacts the value of an asset, whether it is a Van Gogh painting or digital media. For instance, there is a great difference in how a consumer sees an authentic version of The Lion King versus that of a pirated version that has scenes replaced with malicious messaging.
It seems at least three things must happen in parallel for this concept of digital provenance to have a significant impact on the challenges the media industry faces.
Firstly, digital content creators should use tools that can mark outputs from the creative process with verifiable provenance metadata. Note that this does not preclude the use of AI tools to help generate any content, it would just make sure that some content can be recognised as coming from such a source during the creative process.
Secondly, distribution channels that we rely on for our information and entertainment must incorporate technology that will, by default, display the existence – or lack – of provenance information for each and every asset that is displayed or played on their sites or apps.
Lastly, a cultural shift is required where consumers demand to check the provenance of a digital asset before they consume it. Whilst it seems unlikely that providers will try and prevent the distribution of content without provenance information, at least audience members will have very high expectations of the information that is available to them.
It is not insignificant to claim that the health of the media industry in 2030 and beyond will rest on the extent to which content provenance becomes an organic part of our patterns of creation and consumption, and that the commercial value of services delivering such trusted content can be significantly greater than those that do not. Linking a system of content provenance with the next evolution of digital rights management solutions should give content creators and rights holders better control over the protection and revenue potential of these particularly valuable digital assets.
Olga Kornienko is chief operating officer and co-founder of EZDRM
This article was originally published in the Summer 2023 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription