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Reality TV show contestants are more like unpaid interns than Hollywood stars

With the TV writers and actors strikes leaving networks with little scripted content, the fall 2023 lineup will be saturated with low-cost reality TV shows…



Country singer Adley Stump, a former contestant on NBC's hit reality show 'The Voice,' performs at an Air Force base in Washington state. Joint Base Lewis McChord/flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

In December 2018, John Legend joined then-newly elected U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to criticize the exploitation of congressional interns on Capitol Hill, most of whom worked for no pay.

Legend’s timing was ironic.

NBC’s “The Voice” had just announced that Legend would join as a judge. He would go on to reportedly earn US$14 million per season by his third year on the show. Meanwhile, all of the participants on “The Voice,” save for the winner, earned $0 for their time, apart from a housing and food stipend – much like those congressional interns.

The fall 2023 TV lineup will be saturated with low-cost reality TV shows like “The Voice”; for networks, it’s an end-around to the ongoing TV writers and actors strikes.

Whether it’s “The Voice,” “House Hunters,” “American Chopper” or “The Bachelorette,” reality shows thrive thanks to a simple business model: They pay millions of dollars for big-name celebrities to serve as judges, coaches and hosts, while participants work for free or for paltry pay under the guise of chasing their dreams or gaining exposure.

These participants are the unpaid interns of the entertainment industry, even though it’s their stories, personalities and talent that draw the viewers.

Dreams clash with reality

To conduct research for my book, “Getting Signed: Record Contracts, Musicians, and Power in Society,” I interviewed musicians around the country.

The book was about the exploitative nature of record contracts. But during my research, I kept running into singers who had either auditioned for or participated in “The Voice.”

On “The Voice,” singers compete on teams headed by a celebrity coach. Following a blind audition and various elimination rounds, the live broadcasts begin with four teams of five members apiece. These 20 contestants spend months working in Los Angeles and are provided with only their room and board. Each week, at least one player is eliminated. At the end of each season, the winner receives $100,000 and a record contract.

While some viewers might see reality shows like “The Voice” as launching pads for music careers, many of the musicians I spoke with were disheartened by their experiences on the show.

Contestants audition for ‘The Voice’ ahead of its 24th season.

Unlike “American Idol,” where a number of winners, from Kelly Clarkson to Jordan Sparks, have made it big, no winners of “The Voice” have become stars. The closest person to “making it” from “The Voice” is the controversial country singer Morgan Wallen, who was infamously dropped by his label and country radio following the emergence of a video of him using a racial slur. And Wallen didn’t even win “The Voice”; in fact, he barely made it past the blind audition.

Former contestants repeatedly told me that the television exposure did little to help their careers.

Prior to joining the show, many of the musicians were trying to scratch out a living through touring or performing. They put their developing careers on pause to chase their dreams.

However, the show’s contracts have stipulated that contestants cannot perform, sell their name, image and likeness, or record new music while on “The Voice.” (The Conversation reached out to NBC to see if this remains the case for the current season, but did not receive a comment.)

This leaves the 20 finalists with no means to sell their music, even as they spend up to eight months competing. When the show’s losers return to performing, many of them have little new material to promote. By the time they drop a new single or album and announce a tour, some of them told me that they had lost a good portion of their following.

There is one group of people who receive meaningful exposure from these shows: the coaches and judges. Several singers, such as Gwen Stefani and Pharell Williams, have used “The Voice” to jolt their stagnating music careers. While earning millions as coaches and judges, these stars even use the show to promote their music – something the contestants themselves are barred from doing.

Paying these contestants is feasible. If Legend earned $13 million instead of $14 million, that spare million dollars could be dispersed to half of the contestants at $100,000 apiece – an amount that’s currently only reserved for the winner of the show. Cut the salaries of all four coaches by $1 million apiece, and it would free up enough money to pay all 20 contestants $200,000 each.

A gold mine for networks

“The Voice” is far from the only reality show to take advantage of the genre’s low overhead costs.

Over the past two decades, shows featuring Americans looking to buy houses or remodel their homes have exploded in popularity. HGTV cornered this market by creating popular shows such as “House Hunters,” “Flip or Flop” and “Property Brothers.”

Viewers might not realize just how profitable these shows are.

Take “House Hunters.” The show follows a prospective homebuyer as they tour three homes. Homebuyers featured on the show have noted that they earn only $500 for their work, and the episodes take three to five days and about 30 hours to film. The show’s producers don’t pay the realtors to be on it.

The low pay for people on reality TV shows matches the low budget for these shows. A former participant wrote that episodes of “House Hunters” cost around $50,000 to film. Prime-time sitcoms, by comparison, have a $1.5 million to $3 million per episode budget.

Sidestepping the unions

That massive budget gap between reality TV and sitcoms is not simply due to an absence of star actors.

Many scripted television shows are based in Los Angeles, where camera crews, stunt doubles, costume artisans, makeup artists and hair stylists are unionized. But shows like “House Hunters,” which are filmed across the country, will recruit crews from right-to-work states. These are states where employees cannot be compelled to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment. For these reasons, unions have far less power in these states than they do in places traditionally associated with film and entertainment, such as California and New York.

That’s one reason why TV production started moving to Atlanta – what’s been dubbed the “Hollywood of the South” – where shows like “The Walking Dead” and “Stranger Things” have been filmed.

But in my research, I also learned that Knoxville, Tennessee, has become a reality TV mecca. Like Georgia, Tennessee is also a right-to-work state. In Knoxville, many working musicians join the city’s low-paying entertainment apparatus by taking gigs working on TV and film production crews in between shows and tours.

At a time when TV writers and actors are on strike, it is important to understand that the entertainment industry will try to exploit labor for profit whenever it can.

Reality TV is a way to undercut the leverage of striking workers, whether it’s through their lack of unionized actors, or their use of nonunionized production crews.

A group of striking workers yell, hold signs and thrust their arms skyward.
With actors and writers on strike, many networks and streaming services are featuring reality TV-heavy fall lineups. David McNew/Getty Image

Contestants, casts and crew members are starting to catch on. Many reality TV participants have said that they feel like strike scabs, and Bethenny Frankel of “Real Housewives” is reportedly trying to organize her fellow reality performers.

Preying off contestants who are desperate for exposure, reality TV might just be the next labor battle in the entertainment industry.

As John Legend put it, “Unpaid internships make it so only kids with means and privilege get the valuable experience.”

Reality TV does the same to aspiring actors, musicians and celebrities.

David Arditi does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Ushering in the era of light-powered ‘multi-level memories’

We live in an era of data deluge. The data centers that are operated to store and process this flood of data use a lot of electricity, which has been called…



We live in an era of data deluge. The data centers that are operated to store and process this flood of data use a lot of electricity, which has been called a major contributor to environmental pollution. To overcome this situation, polygonal computing systems with lower power consumption and higher computation speed are being researched, but they are not able to handle the huge demand for data processing because they operate with electrical signals, just like conventional binary computing systems.

Credit: Korea Institute of Science and Technology

We live in an era of data deluge. The data centers that are operated to store and process this flood of data use a lot of electricity, which has been called a major contributor to environmental pollution. To overcome this situation, polygonal computing systems with lower power consumption and higher computation speed are being researched, but they are not able to handle the huge demand for data processing because they operate with electrical signals, just like conventional binary computing systems.

The Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST, President Seok Jin Yoon) announced that Dr. Do Kyung Hwang of the Center for Opto-Electronic Materials & Devices and Professor Jong-Soo Lee of the Department of Energy Science & Engineering at Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology (DGIST, President Young Kuk) has jointly developed a new zero-dimensional and two-dimensional (2D-0D) semiconductor artificial junction material and observed the effect of a next-generation memory powered by light. Transmitting data between the computing and storage parts of a multi-level computer using light rather than electrical signals can dramatically increase processing speed.

The research team has fabricated a new 2D-0D semiconductor artificial junction material by joining quantum dots in a core-shell structure with zinc sulfide (ZnS) on the surface of cadmium selenide (CdSe) and a molybdenum sulfide (MoS2) semiconductor. The new material enables the storage and manipulation of electronic states within quantum dots measuring 10 nm or less.

When light is applied to the cadmium selenide core, a certain number of electrons flow out of the molybdenum sulfide semiconductor, trapping holes in the core and making it conductive. The electron state inside cadmium selenide is also quantized. Intermittent light pulses trap electrons in the electron band one after the other, inducing a change in the resistance of the molybdenum sulfide through the field effect, and the resistance changes in a cascading manner depending on the number of light pulses. This process makes it possible to divide and maintain more than 0 and 10 states, unlike conventional memory, which has only 0 and 1 states. The zinc sulfide shell also prevents charge leakage between neighboring quantum dots, allowing each single quantum dot to function as a memory.

While quantum dots in conventional 2D-0D semiconductor artificial junction structures simply amplify signals from light sensors, the team’s quantum dot structure perfectly mimics the floating gate memory structure, confirming its potential for use as a next-generation optical memory. The researchers verified the effectiveness of the polynomial memory phenomenon with neural network modeling using the CIFAR-10 dataset and achieved a 91% recognition rate.

Dr. Hwang of KIST said, “The new multi-level optical memory device will contribute to accelerating the industrialization of next-generation system technologies such as artificial intelligence systems, which have been difficult to commercialize due to technical limitations arising from the miniaturization and integration of existing silicon semiconductor devices.”



KIST was established in 1966 as the first government-funded research institute in Korea. KIST now strives to solve national and social challenges and secure growth engines through leading and innovative research. For more information, please visit KIST’s website at

This research was supported by the Ministry of Science and ICT (Minister Jong-ho Lee) as a mid-career researcher project and a major project of KIST, and the results were published in the international journal Advanced Materials (IF: 29.4).


Journal Link: Advanced Materials, Jul-2023

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Dev platform Stack Overflow axes 28% of staff as AI competition grows

The technology Q&A forum has seen declines in web traffic since the launch of ChatGPT in 2022.
Developer and programmer platform…



The technology Q&A forum has seen declines in web traffic since the launch of ChatGPT in 2022.

Developer and programmer platform Stack Overflow is cutting the company’s headcount by approximately 28% amid a rise in the popularity of artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots. 

On Oct. 16, Stack Overflow CEO, Prashanth Chandrasekar, made the announcement citing the challenges of macroeconomic pressures impacting the entire tech industry.

The firm is on a “path to profitability” and “continued product innovation,” said Chandrasekar who added, “This year we took many steps to spend less.”

Stack Overflow is a 15-year-old tech-focused question-and-answer forum for millions of developers, coders, and enthusiasts. It doubled its headcount in 2022 to 540, according to reports, so this week’s layoffs account for around 150 employees.

In August, Stack Overflow noted that its web traffic has seen a small decline compared to 2022, falling by an average of 5%.

"Conversely, in April of this year, we saw an above-average traffic decrease (~14%), which we can likely attribute to developers trying GPT-4 after it was released in March," it added.

The firm also said it expected generative AI to cause "some rises and falls in traditional traffic and engagement over the coming months."

Meanwhile, technology outlets such as Ars Technica have attributed the rise of AI chatbots to declines in the traffic and usage of traditional social knowledge-sharing platforms such as forums.

“Chatbots can offer more specific help than a 5-year-old forum post ever could,” it stated on October 17. ChatGPT and the like can also correct code, provide optimization suggestions, and explain what each line of code is doing.

New York University Leonard N. Stern School of Business Professor Panos Ipeirotis also made a similar suggestion in an X post on Oct. 17. 

Screenshot from X post by professor Panos Ipeirotis on Oct. 17. Source: X/@ipeirotis

However, Stack Overflow is working on its own answer to OpenAI’s ChatGPT in the form of “Overflow AI,” announced in July.

The goal is to introduce new features to leverage Stack Overflow's community knowledge to power AI that provides developers with personalized, trustworthy solutions. Chandrasekar concuded.

“As we refine our focus, priorities, and strategy it's to better meet the demands of our users, customers, and partners as part of this commitment to product innovation and the continued momentum of OverflowAI.”

Cointelegraph contacted Stack Overflow for comment but was referred back to the Oct. 16 announcement.

Related: How AI is changing crypto: Hype vs. reality

In related news, the Coinhouse crypto exchange has also axed 15% of its workforce according to reports.

The 2015-founded French exchange has laid off 10 of its 70 employees citing “reduced enthusiasm for Web3 and a fragile global economic environment.”

Earlier this month French hardware wallet provider announced a 12% staff reduction.

Magazine: ‘AI has killed the industry’: EasyTranslate boss on adapting to change

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FTX customers could get $9B shortfall claim payout by mid-2024

A proposed settlement could see creditors receive a shortfall claim of $8.9 billion for and $166 million for FTX US.



A proposed settlement could see creditors receive a shortfall claim of $8.9 billion for and $166 million for FTX US.

Customers of bankrupt crypto exchange FTX and FTX US could see over 90% of assets returned to them by the end of the second quarter of 2024 after a proposed settlement was reached between FTX creditors and debtors.

On Oct. 17, FTX debtors said they reached a “major milestone” in their Chapter 11 case after “extensive discussions” with the unsecured creditors' committee, a committee of non-US customers, and class action plaintiffs regarding customer property disputes.

FTX ebtors filed a notice of the proposed settlement to a Delaware-based United States Bankruptcy Court on Oct. 16 (for information purposes). However, they need to submit an official filing by Dec. 16 seeking the court’s approval.

Part of the amended plan consists of the “Shortfall Claim,” in which FTX debtors estimates that customers of and FTX US would collectively receive 90% of assets available for distribution.

The Shortfall Claim is estimated to be approximately $8.9 billion for and $166 million for FTX US. If approved by the Bankruptcy Court, FTX expects these funds to be disbursed by the end of the second quarter of 2024.

John. J. Ray III, CEO and chief restructuring officer of the FTX, was pleased with the terms of the settlement:

"Together, starting in the most challenging financial disaster I have seen, the debtors and their creditors have created enormous value from a situation that easily could have been a near-total loss for customers.”

The amended plan involves FTX dividing the assets into three pools — assets segregated for the benefit of customers, U.S. customers and a general pool of other assets. However, only the first two groups are included in the Shortfall Claim.

FTX debtors however anticipate that customers of both exchanges will not be paid in full and that would likely see a greater percentage of losses.

FTX customer clawbacks

Meanwhile, observers noted a part of the proposed plan sees to it that customers that withdrew over $250,000 from the exchange within nine days of bankruptcy would have their claim reduced by 15% of the amount.

However, claims under $250,000 wouldn't be subject to a reduction, FTX debtors explained:

"Eligible customers that have a preference settlement amount of less than $250,000 during the nine-day period would be able to accept the settlement without any reduction of claim or payment."

Related: Caroline Ellison wanted to step down but feared a bank run on FTX

However, as part of the amended plan, FTX may exclude from the settlement any insiders, affiliates and customers who may have had knowledge of the commingling and misuse of customer deposits and corporate funds, it said.

Former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried is two weeks into his fraud trial on matters relating to his involvement in FTX’s collapse to bankruptcy last November.

Magazine: Deposit risk: What do crypto exchanges really do with your money?

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