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EBU and European Athletics Partner in Cloned Voice Radio Initiative

The project aims to explore practical uses of AI in sports broadcasting

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The author is the head of audio and innovation at Eurovision Sport, part of the European Broadcasting Union

The European Broadcasting Union has launched an exciting new project, aiming to explore practical uses of AI in sports broadcasting. Between live sessions of the European Athletics Teams Championships in the Silesia region of Poland, AI-generated presentation will replace traditionally edited highlights content. 

In April, Couleur 3, the EBU’s Swiss Romand Member, used AI to generate a radio program for an entire day, choosing the playlist, cloning known voices and writing the texts of the presenters. The result inspired us to extend the initiative to sports presentation.

Fascinated by Hollywood’s use of AI voice cloning tools, EBU has cooperated with Respeecher, a Ukraine-based AI start-up, to generate a clone of former Team GB athlete, turned commentator, Hannah England.

Hannah England

Hannah said: “I am excited to work with European Athletics and the EBU to explore using AI to bring even more content to our fans, speaking with one voice. We are always looking for innovation in athletics and I believe this use of my cloned voice can enhance the fan experience by giving them another incentive to follow our sport.”

The task of combining the live commentaries of European Athletics experts with summaries generated entirely by AI fell to EBU radio senior sport producer Micky Curling, who said: “Between live sessions of athletics, we have traditionally produced a mixture of highlights and reaction, a process that has been time consuming and labor intensive.

“As a producer, I now have the ability to generate fresh content without expecting my presenter to remain glued to her seat for hours after competition has finished. This experiment represents the start of a fascinating journey which could free-up our commentators to focus on preparing for their next live session, while we deliver content on their behalf. This requires a deep level of trust between the presenter and producer, that goes further than the existing relationship involving traditional editing and scripting.” 

Valerii Zablotskyi-Drohan, synthetic speech Artist at Respeecher, which provided the voice cloning software for the initiative, added: “It was a great honor to contribute to such a large-scale project. Considering its 24-hour live audio stream, there is a lot of pressure and responsibility on the event host and organizers. We’re glad that Respeecher AI technology could help them save time and optimize resources, so they could focus on The Championships and distribute even more high-quality content for fans. The intersection of sport and AI is fascinating, so great to see European Athletics and the EBU encourage it, as there is a huge space for creativity.”

Artificial intelligence and data are central themes for public service media today. 

Aware of the potential abuses linked to the irresponsible use of AI (for which the EBU has for instance created an AI ethics group), our organizations wish to test and demonstrate that these technologies can be effective tools if used in a strict and judiciously supervised framework.

By developing AI strategies in close collaboration with our partners, we believe we can relieve the workload of our talents by delegating certain tasks with low added value to algorithmic assistance.

Based on these experiences, we will work on a charter concerning the use of artificial intelligence in the production of editorial content.

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