Breaking bot: Is AI taking newsrooms to the future?

Experts believe that AI anchors are a cost-effective solution for media houses, but the replacement of human news presenters is still far away

by Nilanjana Basu
Published - September 04, 2023
6 minutes To Read
Breaking bot: Is AI taking newsrooms to the future?

Artificial intelligence has made its way into many industries, and media channels are definitely not falling behind in this race. If you have noticed an uncanny valley quality in certain news anchors in some news channels over the past few months, it is because they are not human, but GenAI-based news bots who are now becoming a national phenomenon.

Journalism is a tricky space when it comes to the use of generative AI technology, given the discrepancies in accuracy that can lead to false or outdated information. But news channels in India have finally begun to master this phenomenon, which is not only expected to raise their affinity towards the technology but could also help their bottom line in the coming years.

The phenomenon in the country began with India Today group’s first AI news presenter Sana for their Hindi channel, Aaj Tak, in March, then national media group ABP News also introduced their AI anchor AIRA for its Telegu news channel ABP Desam. Even regional media houses are not falling behind. Recently, Odisha TV also introduced the country’s first regional language AI anchor Lisa, followed by Kannada channel Power TV introducing its AI news anchor Soundarya.

Talking about this new addition to media channels, Vijay Jung Thapa, Chief Digital Officer of ABP Network said, “AI anchors have increasingly become one of the new age additions to the newsrooms across the globe and India has been among the early adopters of this trend. From English, Hindi to other vernacular languages the AI Anchors are becoming popular across news publishers from reading automated bulletins to assisting in technologies like Text to Speech. ABP Network continued the trend of being the first platform to adopt this in vernacular language markets. The digital arm of ABP Network - ABPLIVE, launched the first AI anchor in the Telugu news market AIRA on the occasion of its 2nd anniversary on 29 July 2023.

AIRA, the first AI anchor in Telugu news space by ABP Desam has been regularly doing Sports bulletins and receiving accolades for the topical coverage and style of showcasing critical match & stats analysis. Due to the adaptive learning ability as the AI model trains, the perfection in content delivery is gradually seeing great traction from the viewers.”

The tech behind AI anchors

exchange4media spoke to Justbaat, a company that specializes in making these AI anchors for a number of news channels across the world.

Shaurya Nigam, CEO of Justbaat, explains how Justbaat’s technology is helping build AI bots for news channels in India. “So, Justbaat is a video creation company. We enable video creation using generative AI. There are two parts of the solution. One is where we create a brand identity for the company that we work with, which is the AI anchor or the AI brand mascot and that brand mascot once made is deployed on the platform. Using the platform, more content can be created around that AI anchor or without that AI anchor, around video, or around display banners. It could be repurposed for reading news, brand endorsements, weather astrology, product descriptions, etc. The entire technology is intelligent enough to create the script, use the script and then make it video-ready.”

Jusbaat now has eight paid clients in the Indian media ecosystem. “The response has been phenomenal. The concept of having an AI to communicate with the end-user has literally become a rage. Lisa, for example, who is the AI anchor for OTV, has 15,000 followers on Instagram already. And this is like within two weeks of a launch.” he added.

Justbaat charges $1 per minute for every AI anchor, with an initial investment of about Rs 10 lakh. Speaking about the price, Nigam says, “The pricing is higher because the entire ecosystem around AI is expensive today. The kind of machine that you use to produce video is a Graphic Processing Unit or a GPU; it's not a simple computer. Then there is a cost for research and innovation as well at this stage because the market is still warming up towards AI. But eventually, these costs will come down. Hence, more and more companies will come into the ecosystem and will get warmed up to it. Eventually, the cost to adopt or own this technology will also reduce."

Cost-effective but not an alternative

Karan Taurani of Elara Capital believes that although AI anchors will save money for the media channels but in the long run, it cannot replace humans. “I think money-wise, it will be very cost-effective. It is a much more low-cost model than some of your key anchors. But, scaling this up is a challenge. Getting people hooked on these anchors is a challenge because human touch is more important over here. So, the future of AI is there, but I don't see it coming in the form of anchors. It might be in the form of different kinds of capabilities around the way news is showcased, or any kind of investment around the digital platform or digital video consumption side or maybe interactive news as well, in terms of Web 3.0 using AR VR.

"Anchors are the ones who drive the entire viewership. They've added recall in terms of branding and they've added recall in terms of customer ease in so many years. So, it's never going to be easy for AI-based languages to completely replace them.”

On the other hand, Nigam believes that AI anchors can bring good ROI for news channels. “One, it is making the entire process more efficient. You need a lesser number of people to do what it took earlier, hence it is increasing the ROI. Second, because it is increasing the ROI, it is also initiating more content creation. Using AI, due to the ease of creating a video where you don't need a studio, the client who was producing 50 videos is now getting 150 or 200 videos a day.”

Speaking on the numerous possibilities of AI in the newsroom, Thapa of ABP says, “Experiments with AI anchors have infinite possibilities and can be scaled exponentially surrounding News and publishing. Along with AI anchors, the Artificial Intelligence technology is also being used for content summariser, image generation, content genre classification among many other projects, the content and product innovation teams are working on.”