EXCLUSIVE: The U.S. studios are aware of the dangers behind “making a wholesale shift to AI,” according to the CEO of a leading artificial intelligence dubbing outfit that says its content has been viewed by more than 1 billion people in the past year.
Jesse Shemen, who runs Papercup, was speaking with Deadline after taking part in a behind-closed-doors panel discussion in London about the use of AI in film, TV and the media.
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While AI formed a cornerstone of the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strike negotiations and the studios were often criticized for their attitude towards replicating talent’s faces, bodies and voices via the game-changing tech, Shemen said the situation is more nuanced than these traditional players simply being the bad guys.
“The studios are precious about this and are conscious of rattling relationships with others around the world,” he added. “It’s hard to pin down their consensus but if there is one simple thing that does matter most it’s commercial and right now commercial sense is dictating that you need to tread carefully and can’t just make a wholesale shift to AI. And that goes for everything – scriptwriting, CGI or images.”
The writers and actors guilds were able to secure guardrails surrounding use of AI in their contracts with the AMPTP following lengthy and messy negotiations last year – although some such as producer Justine Bateman have said they did not go far enough – and, in the UK, artificial intelligence is set to play a major role in the actor’s unions upcoming negotiations with broadcasters and producers.
Shemen said U.S. studios are more cognisant of the issues at play than some outside the sector due to an understanding that viewers and subscribers are all too aware of the dangers of AI.
“It’s easy to blindly adopt these things when every company board is saying, ‘We need to figure out how to use AI and cut costs’,” he added. “It might be easy to think you are capitalizing on the commercial gain [of shifting to AI] but that comes at a price of of making customers use AI in ways that they don’t necessarily want.”
Shemen was not involved with the SAG negotiations but stressed that Papercup has been advocating for years for voice artists’ consent to be required before their vocals are re-used. “You should not be able to use someone’s voice without their permission,” he added. “We ask for explicit permission from the artists we work with and the use case has always been clear to them.”
Papercup was launched in 2018 as a dubbing service, providing dubbing on news, scripted and unscripted content to tap into the demand for English-language shows to be consumed in different languages. In layman’s terms, the company’s technology creates synthetic voices that match the vocals of the actor in a chosen language, combining this with an “in loop platform” that checks the quality of the output.
Papercup hit an “inflection point” in 2022, Shemen said, following a $20M funding round that came alongside the colossal success of non-English-language streaming hits such as Squid Game, Money Heist and Lupin, while its technology developed to dub content at a far quicker pace than had been possible in the past.
Since then, shows dubbed by Papercup have been viewed by more than 1 billion people, according to Shemen. The company has dubbed the likes of Got Talent and Jamie Oliver shows. It works with clients including Sky News and Bloomberg and will be unveiling partnerships with English and German-language broadcasters soon, along with FAST platforms.
The dubbing versus subbing debate rolls on and Shemen said “circumstantial consumption” now plays the most important role in whether people prefer dubs over subtitles.
“Whether I’m watching on the tube or in the comfort of my own home makes a big difference,” he added. “The platforms are vying to give consumers as many options as they can.”
Going forwards, Shemen said the target is to tackle more languages beyond the most commonly spoken outside of English such as French, German and Spanish. “There are 50 languages with 20 million speakers around the world so I would love to be dedicated to some of those audiences that have a scarcity of content.”
In a similar vein to the likes of Sam Altman’s Open AI, he will continue to passionately advocate for sensible AI use.
He believes the current debate around government regulation of the technology is “slightly misguided” due to the rapid pace at which it is developing.
“By the time governments have intervened the technology will be outdated,” said Shemen. “But there are other paradigms and protocols that can help contain it and a key one is in the form of self-regulation.”
He added: “AI is on an unstoppable march of being widely adopted and I would rather have a world in which a few ethically-minded transparent providers are operating than none at all. I’m speaking on panels, publicizing this point and chatting to journalists in such an animated way because I genuinely do believe it.”
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