A Look Back, and Ahead, at the Stories Shaping Media 

From AI to Disney, the stories defining media.

Generative AI

Chat GPT turned one in November, having jolted Silicon Valley and, quickly, the world with what many tech pros consider the most thrilling innovation since the web browser. What does 2024 hold for Generative Artificial Intelligence? While a bout of the Terrible Twos are out of the question, there are some signs that the euphoria of the past 12 months may have peaked, with big businesses wary of the technology’s tendency to conjure plainly inaccurate texts. As tech commentators and executives told the FT, there’s a chance, however slight, that once the early hype subsides Generative AI may ride more of a boomlet than a boom. 

Even if that does pan out, and I doubt it will, Chat GPT and its competitors will surely hog much of the attention in tech and media next year. The role it plays in the many major elections taking place around the world in 2024, when 60% of democracies head to the polls, will be of particular, agita-inducing interest. CBS News, Google, Meta and TikTok are among the platforms that have installed various levers to identify, label and restrict AI-generated content and advertisements, but the torrent of misinformation it generates will inevitably have an impact on voters from India to the United States. 

Meanwhile, a clash appears to be emerging between news publishers and AI companies that use their content to train AI platforms. The New York Times closed 2023 by suing OpenAI over that use, as well as falsely attributing information to the newspaper. Should more news organizations follow suit, we could soon witness a brawl akin to that between media companies and Big Tech over fair compensation for journalistic output that tech giants disseminate around the world. 


Hollywood’s biggest studio navigated choppy waters last year as audiences showed signs of superhero fatigue after 15 years of that genre dominating the box office. Chief Bob Iger went so far as to criticize the chaotic production of “The Marvels,” which bombed spectacularly, in an unusual rebuke. He spoke more generally about Disney prioritizing quantity over quality and the studio’s urgent need to reassert its creative chops. Disney’s response to shifting viewer tastes will be closely watched this year, as box office receipts are expected to fall nearly 20% thanks to the impact of the actors’ and writers’ strikes on the release calendar. 

The company’s fate in the streaming wars will be another big story. Netflix has recently pulled away from its many streaming rivals and is consistently posting profits. Services from the old guard studios lost a combined $5 billion last year, with Disney+ accounting for a third of that. Consolidation may be on the horizon if aggressive licensing of content to other platforms, fan-enraging series cancellations and unpopular subscription price increases (or the introduction of ads) don’t do the trick. Disney will be sorting its way out of this amidst a restructuring that’s cost 7,000 jobs and enraged activist investors. 

Cable News

The Big 3 cable networks will all be hoping for an election year bump in 2024, though some are in more dire need of one than others. A battered CNN averaged 730,000 primetime viewers last year, down a disastrous 33% from 2022. MSNBC fared slightly better, shedding 21% of viewers and averaging 1.2 million in the crucial time slot. Fox News dipped just 1% and had nearly double the audience (2.3 million) of its nearest rival. For the first time ever, a show airing outside of primetime, Fox’s “The Five,” finished the year atop the ratings heap. That development could lead to a rethinking of primetime in general, just as media observers train their eyes on CNN’s reshuffled lineup under new chief Mark Thompson. 

The election tide should lift all boats, but a likely Trump-Biden rematch probably won’t deliver a jolt on par with 2016’s, when Trump’s crude ascension was a shocking novelty. (Ratings for the first Republican primary debate were down 50% from 2016, but Trump was conspicuously absent from the dais.) CNN and MSNBC will also face inevitable criticism of “platforming” the Republican frontrunner should their coverage of him be seen as softballed or excessive. Then there’s the question of the several trials Trump will be facing in the coming year should the appeals process not delay them–and which of those trials judges will allow to be televised. Finally, Fox News’ ratings dominance will be clouded by its own trials as the election-technology company Smartmatic’s $2.7 billion defamation suit against the network gains steam.