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.

Featured Article: More People Follow ‘TikTok News’

With the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2023 showing TikTok now being the source of news for 20 per cent of 18–24-year-olds at the expense of news websites and apps, we look at where most people now get their news from and the reasons why.

The Report 

The Reuters Institute report is based on the findings of a survey of more than 93,000 people in 46 countries, including the UK, conducted by YouGov in January and February of this year.

Some Key Findings

Some of the key findings about where people young people and others now get their news from are:

– Interest in news stories has declined, there are now high levels of selective news avoidance (36 per cent) i.e., people actively and regularly avoid news (to avoid bad news).

– Trust in the news has fallen and more than half of us (56 per cent) now worry about being able to distinguish between fake and real news on the Internet.

– Around only a fifth of respondents (22 per cent) now say they prefer to start their news journeys with a news website or app (down 10 percentage points since 2018).

– One fifth of young people get their news from TikTok.

– For news topics TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat users now pay more attention to celebrities and social media influencers than to journalists or media companies.

– Consumption of traditional media, such as TV and print, is falling in most markets, with online and social consumption not making up the gap.

– Younger people have a weaker connection with news brands’ own websites and apps than before and prefer to access news via side-door routes such as social media, search, or mobile aggregators.

– Although Facebook is still one of the most-used social networks, shifting its focus away from news (and competition) has meant that its influence on journalism and popularity as a news source is declining.

– Whereas on Facebook and Twitter, news media and journalists are still central to the conversation, audiences say they pay more attention to celebrities, influencers, and social media personalities than journalists in networks like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat (the social networks more popular with young people).

In short, people are moving away from Facebook, news apps and websites, with many young people now preferring to get their news from TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat, paying more attention to what influencers and celebrities say about it.

Why? 

The declining engagement with traditional networks, e.g. Facebook and the rise of TikTok and a range of other video-led networks, along with the preference for the views of influencers and celebrities is likely to be the result of the influence of the habits of the youngest generations. This is because they have grown up with social media and as a result, naturally pay more attention to influencers or celebrities than they do to journalists, even for news. This may also explain why many young people prefer to access news via ‘side-door routes’ such as social media, search, or mobile aggregators rather than heading straight for news websites and apps.

As the Reuters Institute director Rasmus Neilsen explains, “Younger generations increasingly eschew direct discovery for all but the most appealing brands” and “They have little interest in many conventional news offers oriented towards older generations’ habits, interests, and values, and instead embrace the more personality-based, participatory, and personalised options offered by social media, often looking beyond legacy platforms to new entrants”. 

Also, the current squeeze on household spending has meant that people have been rethinking how much they can afford to spend on news media.

Facebook’s declining use for news isn’t just because it’s moving away from news but is also down to strong competition from YouTube and youth-focused networks like TikTok.

A general mistrust of news and a lack of confidence about being able to spot fake new could be due to influences like criticism of the news media, which is often driven by politicians and facilitated by social media.

As for declining interest in news and ‘selective avoidance’ of news, these can be attributed to (probably since the pandemic), an abundance of bad news on constant-repeat e.g., the war in Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis, thereby causing people to avoid bad news to protect their own wellbeing and mental health.

Podcasts 

As highlighted in Reuters Report, podcasts are still popular, and their usage has grown by one-third since 2018. Although they are a source of news, the news podcasts compete for attention with lifestyle and specialist shows (some of which also deal with news), and the listeners tend to be richer, better educated, and younger.

Where Do People Get Their News From? 

According to YouGov figures, although most UK people now get their news from the national TV news (44 per cent) and news websites (40 per cent but declining), social media is where just over a quarter (26 per cent) of people get their news). An Ofcom report from 2022 confirms that younger age groups are more likely to use the internet and social media for news, whereas their older counterparts favour print, radio, and TV. The report shows that the reach of print/online newspapers has seen a large decrease from 2020 i.e. 47 per cent to 2022 (38 per cent), and the report states that social media is overtaking traditional channels for news among teens, e.g. with TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube being their top three most used sources for news.

What Does This Mean For Your Business? 

The shifting landscape of news consumption highlighted in the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2023 has significant implications for various stakeholders in the business world. Publishers, traditional media outlets, social media platforms, and advertisers all need to adapt to the changing preferences and behaviours of news consumers, particularly among younger generations.

For publishers and traditional media, the report emphasises the decline in interest and trust in news stories, as well as the decreasing preference for news websites and apps. This highlights the need for innovative approaches to news delivery and engagement to capture the attention of younger audiences. Investing in video-led networks, exploring personalised and participatory options, and leveraging social media platforms can help reach a broader audience.

Social media platforms, while still influential, face challenges in the evolving news landscape. The decline of Facebook as a news source, primarily driven by competition from platforms like TikTok and YouTube, indicates the importance of diversifying content offerings and adapting to changing user preferences. Platforms must strike a balance between user-generated content and news media to remain relevant and trustworthy sources of information.

Advertisers need to reassess their strategies and platforms for reaching their target audiences. With young people paying more attention to influencers and celebrities on platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat, there is an opportunity to collaborate with these popular figures to promote their products or services. Advertisers should also consider leveraging podcasts, which have seen growth and appeal to a more affluent, educated, and younger demographic.

Overall, the report highlights the need for businesses to stay informed about the changing news consumption habits and preferences of their target audiences. Adapting to the rise of video-led networks, social media influencers, and personalised content can help companies stay relevant and effectively engage with consumers. By embracing new platforms and approaches, businesses can navigate the evolving news landscape and leverage these changes to their advantage.