iQiyi: What to expect from the integration of AI and entertainment

iQiyi, China’s leading video platform and often considered as the country’s Netflix, is mostly cited as an online site to follow TV series. Nevertheless, having presented TV Set-Top Box (STB) service Qiyiguo TV (奇异果TV) jointly with China’s state-project-backed GITV (银河互联网电视有限公司), offered VR headset iQUT (奇遇) series, and produced iQiyi-made TV programs, iQiyi has gone beyond a video platform and is now an innovative content and entertainment platforms.During the 2018 TechCrunch Hangzhou event, Mr. Liu Wenfeng, CTO at iQiyi, shared thoughts on the company’s future AI plans.

An approachable trend: AI + Entertainment

Liu said during the fireside chat that iQiyi itself had discussed whether the company is a content-oriented or tech-oriented enterprise for a while internally. He said, “On the one hand, we believe we are a content producer, with our major focus eyeing the entertainment segment of the industry; on the other, having over 50% tech-related employees on board, we also believe we are a tech company. In the end, our internal discussion defined iQiyi as an entertainment company – but a tech-driven one.”According to this definition of the company, Liu further explained that iQiyi’s vision is to utilize technological methods to set up a new platform that optimizes the use of content and that will conveniently transform relevant content into “valuable assets”. This naturally brings AI – an irreplaceable force – to the game.“We have been cultivating AI’s power since 2014. At that time, we were hoping to bring in AI to improve the efficiency of content production,” Liu said. He believes entertainment will be the first and easiest field for AI to realize its practical power and use cases. In turn, AI will offer strong support to enhance the whole industry’s operation. In 2014, when iQiyi first started to test AI, the technology was used to examine content uploaded by users to assist copyright protection.iQiyi has stepped forward. With many ready AI + Entertainment cases at hand, Liu picked up an App called Yihui (艺汇) for a detailed introduction. The main function of the app is to help directors decide the most proper actors and actresses.“To begin with, [Yihui] uses machine learning to process text information such as manuscripts and character information and then transfer them all into structured data. Meanwhile, iQiyi’s deep learning technology will allow the machine to recognize all characters in our media databases. This will sort out an index showing who is good at what play, and who can star what character. The application of Yihui can tailor directors’ options more accurately and hence improve directors and producers’ work efficiency.”Further, according to Liu, the technology also allows detailed analysis of an actress’ movements, facial expressions, and viewers’ real-time comments uploaded to iQiyi media players. This, Liu added, will help content makers decipher viewers’ attitudes towards the actress, and encourage both smart character decisions and even the cultivation of a rising superstar.

iQiyi’s strengths in the era of AI

Despite iQiyi’s ready achievements, technological and commercial pursuits of AI are already crowded with ambitious players including other powerful video and entertainment companies. iQiyi understands the trend, and is clear about its advantages in the game.“We have made huge input. Apart from the over 50% tech-related employees, we have submitted over 5,000 patent applications. Such volume is big among China’s internet-driven companies,” Liu said.Another advantage, according to Liu, is that “iQiyi owns a team that understands entertainment the most.” He went on, saying, “We have our own studios that allow content production. With deep knowledge of content, content production can further accelerate the progress of technological innovations. Think about an AI model, without sufficient training or adjustment, it will be useless. There has to be constant input that demands the model to iterate according to external requirements.”

Hardware for user experience

iQiyi has also demonstrated its ambition in hardware production.Liu explained, iQiyi is not producing hardware for any hardware’s sake. Instead, hardware production is part of the company’s user experience optimization strategy. “Our VR headset equipped with an 8K screen, for example, to show our users where better user experience can be found.”“We also hope our hardware will cast some fresh light on the hardware industry,” Liu added, acknowledging that the ultimate purpose of iQiyi’s hardware manufacturing is still content-oriented. “When the industry is ready to produce more high-quality hardware, iQiyi would be glad to cooperate with relevant parties on more content projects.”Liu also unveiled that a “small” team in iQiyi is working on blockchain projects. He said, “[The blockchain project] is now in early stages. The direction is for blockchain’s use cases in copyright protection.”Translated by Zhao Runhua.