Companies in the media sector are generally progressive in embracing digital tech to adapt their businesses — but they are more reluctant than other industries to move forward with artificial intelligence, among other emerging technologies, according to new research from PwC.

Per PwC’s survey of 1,000 U.S. executives for its “2019 AI Predictions” report in multiple industries, 20% said their companies will deploy AI across their businesses next year.

By comparison, media companies are in the extremely early phases of implementing AI, the consulting firm’s research shows. Only a limited few have defined an AI business case and deployment plan — and hardly any have projects currently in process, PwC found. Just 7% of media execs said they are making “substantial” investments in AI, according to PwC.

“AI has been a hot topic, but it’s not in production as much as you think,” said Scott Likens, who lead PwC’s emerging technologies group. “There’s still mystery about emerging technologies among business executives.”

One of the concerns about AI is that it will introduce new problems. The potential for AI-powered cyberthreats was the top-ranked concern among tech, media, and telecommunications execs surveyed by PwC (43% of whom identified it as the No. 1 worry).

“We automatically don’t trust something we don’t understand, even if it’s better,” Likens noted.

There’s also a lack of understanding of how AI can be used to improve efficiencies and create new revenue opportunities, according to Likens. Artificial intelligence, depending on how it’s defined, is 50 years old, he said. So far, though, the promise of AI has been tough to explain. “People say they’re using AI when in fact they’re just using analytics,” Likens said.

The benefits of AI applications can be intangible, according to Likens. For example, it’s hard to measure the extent to which an AI-powered personalization feature for content results in a better overall customer experience, he said.

Among media execs PwC polled, only 12% identified AI as being the “most disruptive” emerging technology in the next three years.

Still, media executives do see the potential for AI applications. Of respondents who picked AI as the No. 1 disruptive technology, 19% said they expect AI will help cut costs, 5% said it will boost productivity, and 3% said it will improve customer experience.

One of the biggest challenges — as with the adoption of any emerging technology — is changing the culture of an organization to embrace it, Likens said. “Changing process takes a lot of time,” he said. “Upskilling the workforce is difficult. There’s knowledge on both sides that has to come together — that includes people with AI domain expertise and businesspeople.”

In addition to AI applications that can reduce costs (like automating call centers and customer service), artificial intelligence used in conjunction with other technologies can produce big wins, according to Likens. “We think the convergence of emerging tech is where it’s at,” he said.

For example, PwC deployed an application for a client (which Likens declined to identify) that combined blockchain and AI to automatically manage content-rights and royalties payments. “A lot of the manual processing went away by automating that smart-contract process,” he said.

Likens also sees promise in combining AI with virtual-reality and other immersive experiences. “With AI it’s not just canned interactions… it’s a live interaction model,” he said.

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