Tech News : News Channel With Virtual Newsreaders

A Los Angeles-based startup has said the news channel it’s about to launch will feature virtual newsreaders delivering news content generated by AI. 

AI-Generated News And Presenters 

Channel 1, which describes itself as a “personalised global news network powered by AI” showcased its virtual AI-generated news and presenters in a half-hour long video posted on Twitter.  The channel said, “Our generated anchors deliver stories that are informative, heartfelt and entertaining.”  

The Plan 

It’s been reported that the initial plan for Channel 1, founded by producer and director Scott Zabielski and tech entrepreneur Adam Mosam, is to deliver a 30-minute weekly show through a FAST channel, which produces newscasts (by virtual presenters) that are customised for every user. 

In a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Zabielski acknowledged that the virtual presenters still look a little like video game characters but said that in the near future it will be difficult to tell the difference between watching AI and watching a human being. 

Not The First 

The LA-based channel is not the first to use a virtual, AI generated news anchor. For example: 

– Back in 2000, a team in Leeds developed a female character virtual newsreader called Ananova who presented news stories in a format similar to traditional TV newscasters, but through an online platform. Ananova marked an early step towards the integration of AI and virtual reality in media and journalism. The character was eventually acquired by the British mobile operator Orange. 

– Digital AI news anchors have appeared online and on television in China for years. An AI-powered, ‘human’ style presenter debuted on the state news agency Xinhua in 2018. Also, during the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China also had a virtual host and an AI sign language presenter. Back in March, China’s state-owned news outlet ‘People Daily’ (the Chinese Community Party – CCP news outlet) introduced a new female AI-created presenter named Ren Xiaorong. People Daily said the 365 days, 24 hours virtual newsreader had the professional skills of a “thousand presenters”. 

– Also, in March this year, it was reported that the Venezuelan state-owned television station VTV has been using deepfake English-speaking hosts. YouTube videos from the AI-generated hosts Noah and Daren (created by a company called Synthesia) making (false and over-optimistic) claims about the Venezuelan economy were shown on the VTV channel. 

– In February, a New York Times report highlighted how videos featuring AI-generated deepfake broadcasters for a news outlet named Wolf News were being posted on Twitter and Facebook to spread disinformation related to promoting the interests of the Chinese Communist Party. 

The Rise of ‘Cheapfakes’ 

Although news channels may have enough resources to develop convincing deepfakes, the now widely available selection of free/low-cost AI tools, video and image editing software mobile apps, means that it’s become easy for anyone to modify media and create their own ‘cheapfakes’. These are simpler and less sophisticated than deepfakes (which require minimal technical skills to make) and the rise of social media facilitates their rapid spread, often outpacing the verification of their authenticity. Cheapfakes can be quickly and cheaply made and exploit trust in traditional media by subtly modifying genuine content to create misleading narratives. Their simplicity and the challenges of detection make them a potent tool for misinformation, especially in politically and socially charged contexts. 

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

AI-powered news channels with virtual newsreaders (as showcased by Channel 1) are already used, e.g. by state media in China, however this latest startup shows a more focused approach that could represent a transformative moment for the news and media industry, as well as for businesses involved in content creation and distribution. This development carries a mix of potential benefits and challenges for businesses to consider. 

In terms of the impact on news and media, the widescale use of AI and virtual newsreaders could revolutionise the way news is produced and consumed. For example, it offers the possibility of highly personalised and constantly updated news streams (Channel 1’s plan), potentially increasing viewer engagement. However, it also raises concerns about the authenticity and quality of news, as AI-generated content may lack the nuanced understanding and ethical considerations of human journalists. 

For businesses in content creation, AI presents an opportunity to streamline production processes and reduce costs. Virtual newsreaders, for example, can work around the clock, accommodating constant content updates. However, the challenge lies in ensuring that the content remains accurate, unbiased, and adheres to journalistic standards. 

Viewers/news consumers may benefit from more tailored and diverse news experiences but the difficulty in distinguishing AI-generated content from human-produced content could lead to confusion and mistrust among viewers, especially if the technology is used to spread misinformation or disinformation. It may also simply feel quite unnatural, impersonal, and a bit creepy to watch multiple news channels where the presenters aren’t real. The characters may lack the human interaction, jokes, quips, and other nuances which are often engaging and entertaining to viewers and give them more of a connection to presenters. 

The main advantage of AI-generated news and presenters is the efficiency and personalisation but the experience of other countries e.g., China and Venezuela show how it could easily be manipulated to spread false information using the legitimacy of known news networks for authenticity. The rise of ‘cheapfakes’, for example, illustrates how easily technology can be misused to create and spread misinformation. Businesses must, therefore, balance the efficiency and innovation of AI with a commitment to ethical standards and factual accuracy. It’s crucial, for example, to invest in fact-checking and maintain transparency with audiences to build and retain trust. 

While AI-driven news channels like Channel 1 may represent a significant technological advancement, taking the virtual presenter idea forward will mean businesses having to carefully navigate the ethical, practical, and reputational challenges it presents. Maintaining journalistic integrity and trust in the age of AI news will be paramount. Businesses should embrace the innovation AI offers while being mindful of its implications for content authenticity and public trust.

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