Artificial intelligence company HourOne is providing its virtual humans to host soccer coverage on Ran.de, an online sports media outlet owned by Germany’s second largest privately owned television company, ProSieben. The partnership began more than a year ago and recently included World Cup-related video shows until Germany’s opening-round elimination, in addition to Ran’s Bundesliga coverage.
HourOne, founded in Tel-Aviv in 2019, has about 150 stock avatars available, all of whom are digital clones of real people that signed their likeness over to HourOne to be replicated. Ran’s producers then write text lines read by the synthetic presenter. The process enables Ran to save on hiring a human anchor and studio production costs, while adding a video component to content that was otherwise planned to be limited to written articles.
“We capture in a studio because you have good lighting, green screen,” says Hour One’s head of strategy Natalie Monbiot. “Really what we’re aiming for is just a few minutes of footage to recreate that person in digital form. We’re capturing some of their facial expressions and movements so that once you digitize them, and we put words into their mouth essentially, the way they’re pronouncing stuff seems natural.”
HourOne’s software lets media brands select their preferred AI character, video template and background layout, before simply entering the text they want read — which HourOne’s generative AI voice can convert into more than 60 languages. HourOne’s website sells its editing software for $171 per month in a package that spans up to 20 minutes of published video content per month. Human presenters get paid by HourOne each time their avatar is used for content, and their contract states that their likeness can’t be used for illegal, sexual, or political content.
“Ran knows, as do many media publishers, that video is a very high value medium and you can get a lot advertising dollars around it,” says Monbiot, a former consultant for the New York Times. “Using our platform is a quick way to achieve high quality content without the cost and hassle of doing it the traditional way,” she adds, “we find that people write a text presentation in PowerPoint or record video to present later. It’s quite boring and time consuming to sit in front of a camera on a webcam to film yourself presenting something. It takes time and you have to do retakes. We automate that process. All you need to do is write the text, put it into the system and hit a button.”
The German online sports media outlet Ran.de is using HourOne’s virtual humans to host soccer coverage.
Ran’s parent company ProSieben televises NFL games in Germany. HourOne’s other clients include NBC Universal, DreamWorks, Defiance Media, Intel, Cameo, Microsoft, and Berlitz Corporation. Many of those companies use artificial presenters for internal employee training and human resources content rather than consumer-facing videos. Journalists can partner with HourOne to create an AI presenter of themself, so the company views its product as a resource for journalists rather than a threat to their job status.
“First of all, we can’t have a conversation with a virtual representative,” Monbiot says. “Let’s say [a journalist] writes a lot of text, maybe you want to upgrade your report to also have video because then you can distribute that and monetize that to a greater degree. So we see this whole field as additional tools for content creators.”
HourOne has about 150 stock avatars available, all of whom are digital clones of real people that signed their likeness over to HourOne to be replicated.
HourOne has integrated its software with Stable Diffusion, a text-to-image machine learning model used in popular AI tools such as DALL-E. OpenAI owns both the viral chatbot story generator ChatGPT and DALL-E, which create digital images based on written prompts entered by a user. NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal recently tweeted an AI-generated image of himself.
An ESPN 30-for-30 film in 2021 used deep-fake technology to create computer-manipulated images of the deceased Al Davis and Pete Rozelle. In 2020, then U.S. president Donald Trump re-tweeted a GIF of his political opponent Joe Biden that was digitally-edited to make the now U.S. president look like he was sticking out his tongue and showed Biden voicing fabricated pro-Trump audio he never said. Video content produced though HourOne’s software includes a watermark to indicate that the video has been computer generated, and customers can also program their avatar to read text that outwardly introduces itself as a virtual presenter.
“We have been very bullish since the beginning on disclosing within the frame, that the content has been computer generated,” Monbiot says. “We want to respect the user’s right to know how the content was made.”
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