GMA says first AI sportscasters ‘not replacing’ journalists

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
GMA says first AI sportscasters �not replacing� journalists
‘Philippines, meet your first AI sportscasters!’ reads GMA News’ post on social media unveiling Maia and Marco, bilingual (speaking in English and Tagalog) AI presenters, which GMA says were created through Image Generation, Text-to-Speech AI Voice Synthesis/Generation and Deep Learning Face Animation. On Sunday, they were briefly introduced as part of the broadcast team for the ongoing National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Season 99.

In a move that has courted both curiosity and some controversy, GMA 7 executives defended the network’s decision to utilize AI-generated “sportscasters” for its sports news presentation.

“Philippines, meet your first AI sportscasters!” read GMA News’ post on social media on Saturday that unveiled Maia and Marco, which GMA said were created through Image Generation, Text-to-Speech AI Voice Synthesis/Generation and Deep Learning Face Animation. The AI presenters are bilingual-speaking (English and Tagalog) and have features that could pass them off as a local artista and a mixed-race beauty queen.

Officially debuting on the opening day of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Season 99 games that aired on GMA last Sunday, Maia and Marco joined the “human” broadcast team of 12 courtside reporters covering the country’s first athletic collegiate league.

Oliver Victor Amoroso (fifth from left), GMA SVP and head of Integrated News, Regional TV, and Synergy, with the new courtside reporters of NCAA.

The STAR learned that Maia and Marco will appear four times a month on the digital media platforms — not on TV — of GMA Integrated News (GMAIN), GMA Sports, and GMA Synergy to deliver sporting updates. GMA New Media, Inc. (NMI) is also part of this ongoing effort to bring a “new dimension” to sports coverage.

Said senior vice president and head of Integrated News, Regional TV, and Synergy Oliver Victor B. Amoroso in a GMA report, “GMAIN’s adoption of AI technology also demonstrates our commitment to innovation in journalism. We embrace emerging technologies to stay at the forefront of the media industry by providing our audience with a modern and engaging sports news experience. Through this initiative, we continue to fulfill our commitment to providing valuable information and enriching the lives of Filipinos worldwide.”

The initiative, nevertheless, sent the online world abuzz, with a debate being raised about the future of journalism and the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in the media industry.

Photos show Kapuso stars like Alden Richards and Julie Ann San Jose gracing the opening ceremony of NCAA Season 99 at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena. Ten member schools — led by host Jose Rizal University — are participating in the current season.
Photos courtesy of GMA CorpCom

In the comments section of GMA News’ announcement on Facebook, which garnered over 100,000 reactions, as of presstime, critics have argued that AI-generated sportscasters lack emotional depth that sports journos can bring to the table, as well as the human elements of excitement and passion identified with sports broadcasts. Concerns have also been expressed about possible job displacement for present and future journalists.

Some TV personalities have also taken to social media to air their thoughts. Host KC Montero said on X (formerly Twitter): “Welp, there goes my job.” On his Facebook page, Mark Zambrano wrote that it “alarms” him as a host and sports commentator. “This may add aesthetic appeal as a novelty but heart and soul in sports broadcast is invaluable in bringing the best experience to viewers,” he said in a public post.

GMA News executives allayed fears by stating they are not replacing journalists, including analysts and commentators, with the AI integration.

When sought for comment on the reactions and concerns over the AI sportscasters, Amoroso told The Philippine STAR exclusively, “The special participation of our AI Sportscasters is just part of the exciting plans we have for NCAA Season 99. Maia and Marco were introduced to complement, not replace, the human aspect of our coverage.

“They are AI presenters, not journalists; they can’t replace our seasoned broadcasters and colleagues who are the heart of our organization. While we are for innovation, we also value training and upskilling our employees so they could be empowered in this age of AI.”

He further said that they respect the opinions on the initiative and welcome the conversation it has opened not just among members of the media, but also the public in general. “We, after all, need to talk about AI, which is making its presence felt in journalism and other professions.”

The TV exec also stressed that the network is harnessing AI as a “tool” for more creative storytelling and as an “added feature” for sports presentation, with the AI presenters and the “tidbits of information” they provide still being managed by sports news producers.

Separate statements from other execs also shed light on this new feature. Ramil Escarda from NMI said, “The creation of AI sportscasters isn’t meant to replace human reporters but rather to serve as an innovative platform for presenting information to the viewer. Finding creative ways to deliver news and tell compelling stories is the driving force behind GMA Network’s digital transformation and future-proofing efforts.”

Aileen Rae Perez, the network’s head of social for current affairs, added, “Traditional media is now being challenged by creators who are more adept at using AI and technology to deliver their own agenda, which is why now is the perfect time for us to learn and adapt.

“Our goal is to develop a better way of delivering information to the evolving preference of our audience. Instead of seeing creativity and innovation as a threat, we hope that this initiative will start a healthy discourse on how generative AI could help news organizations improve the way we do modern journalism.”

The Kapuso Network has not indicated if it will utilize generative AI for hard news or other programs. Fellow press members and the public, nevertheless, are expected to keep an eye on this development, and see if this pioneering venture will set a new precedent for the future of sports coverage, not to mention rake in improved ratings.

Meanwhile, the media giant can now stake a claim as the first to introduce AI-generated presenters in the country, although there are already international media organizations that have explored the technology for their newsroom operations.

State-run Xinhua News Agency in China became the first country in the world to introduce an AI news anchor in 2018. In November 2020, cable channel MBN became the first broadcaster in South Korea with an AI announcer based on a real-life anchor reporting on the news. In India, Aaj Tak News Channel, Odisha TV and Kannada channel Power TV have also reportedly utilized AI-powered presenters.

From neighboring Southeast Asian countries, Malaysian broadcast channel Astro Awani unveiled two multilingual AI news presenters, Joon and Monica, in May, while TVOne - Indonesia also used AI technology to create “news readers” Nadira and Sasya in April.

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