Second screens and synthetic smarts: Where WarnerMedia’s innovation head sees things going

Travis Scott Fortnite
Toeman said people should watch a short, surreal video set that Travis Scott staged in Fortnite.(Travis Scott, Fortnite)

The advice of WarnerMedia’s chief visionary to the streaming-video industry Tuesday could be compressed to this: Look past your usual screens.

Jeremy Toeman, vice president of technology and innovation for WarnerMedia, offered his take on future directions in a fireside chat at FierceVideo’s Stream TV Show.

“How do we find areas of product innovation that can affect the entire organization?” Toeman explained his job to interviewer Colin Dixon, founder and chief analyst at nScreenMedia LLC. “I get to sit in the one place where we look at opportunities across all the brands together.”

Toeman joined WarnerMedia in November 2019 to run its new Innovation Lab after earlier positions at such firms as CBS Interactive, the Munich-based streaming platform Joyn, and the craft-retail platform Etsy.

That last employer doesn’t fit a traditional video-industry pattern, and neither did Toeman’s first recommendation: tune into the online-games market.

Citing the online game Fortnite and Twitch, the game-streaming service Amazon bought in 2014, he advised viewers to watch the short, surreal set Travis Scott staged in Fortnite.

“Please, after all of the other great speakers are done for today, do yourself a favor and watch that,” he said of the show that featured a gigantic version of the rapper towering over a beach resort. Then, he added, think of the possibilities for transforming entertainment in such an interactive venue.

“Imagine getting to see your favorite band from a foot away, virtually, and you didn’t have to pay $500 a ticket,” Toeman said. “It’s not just about this screen, right here, it’s about the immersive experience inside that screen.”

The potential downside of departing traditional screens, however, is less of a lock on the viewer’s attention.

“Half these people are doing another thing at the same time,” he said. “We really have to be existing in this massively multi-tasking world; whether we think it’s the right way to watch stuff or not, it doesn’t matter anymore.”

Later in the talk, Toeman added that these extra displays could also generate additional revenue, citing the potential of integrating DraftKings sports betting with sports coverage.

Dixon also asked Toeman about the potential roles to be played by artificial intelligence, which has already been handling basic video-production tasks and promises to do much more.

Saying “it’s either the stuff of nightmares or the stuff of dreams,” Toeman noted how such AI tools as the GPT3 language model can replicate or at least simulate human creativity.

He cited his experience writing the opening of a children’s story, then letting GPT3 take over: “It gave me three more paragraphs that sounded like a story.”

Toeman then recounted seeing a demo from an Israeli startup that used AI to generate four synthetic faces that it then put on screen with the visages of four real people in a Brady Bunch-esque layout.

“I was the only person who could find the four out of four fakes,” he said. The startup, which he did not name, aims to use this technology to let real humans generate synthetic actors from themselves that they could then license out.

“The technology is here and it’s really good,” Toeman added. “I hope we use it for good purposes.”