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GMA Network intros AI-powered sportscasters, sparks debate

By Brooke Villanueva Published Sep 24, 2023 11:54 am Updated Sep 24, 2023 12:05 pm

GMA Network took a big step in technology as it introduced the country’s first artificial intelligence (AI)-generated sportscasters in the NCAA Season 99 men’s basketball tournament.

The broadcast company gave a first look at the new "courtside reporters" in a Facebook post on Saturday, Sept. 23. Named Maia and Marco, the two were made by AI via image generation, text-to-speech AI voice synthesis/generation, and deep learning face animation technology. They "are here to help sports fans keep up with the latest sports news and updates” in both English and Tagalog, according to the media giant.  

In a report by GMA Network, Senior Vice President and Head of Integrated News, Regional TV, and Synergy Oliver Victor Amoroso called the project a “groundbreaking initiative that significantly impacts our objective of ‘Mas malaking misyon, mas malawak na paglilingkod sa bayan.’”

“It aligns with our mission to serve all communities within the nation and promote inclusivity in our reporting,” he continued, adding that it highlights their “commitment to innovation in journalism.”

The network's move garnered mixed reactions from social media users. Out of 96,000 Facebook reactions as of writing, almost 62,000 of them are sad while over 18,000 of them are angry. While some said it's a sign that the "future is here" in the comment section, the majority of them found it "sad" and "unsettling" as they pointed out that it could put media workers at risk of being replaced by artificial intelligence.

"This is unsettling. There are countless skilled humans capable of performing brilliantly in those tasks," a Facebook user wrote. "Also, sports are heavily driven by passion, excitement, and human drama. An AI might lack the ability to convey the emotional highs and lows of a game, reducing viewer engagement."

Another one said they don't see it as "inclusivity." While they understand that journalism "has embraced the fast-changing world," they noted that "not all trends should be hyped like this."

"There are far more talented people out there that can do the job," they added.

In a Facebook post, sports commentator and former GMA reporter Mark Zambrano called the media firm's move to complement its NCAA coverage with AI sportscasters "alarming."

"I have nothing against technology and how it makes things easier for humans to do things," he said, "but for someone who devoted a lifetime to developing my craft as a sports commentator and host, this alarms me."

"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 wrote, emphasizing that "the human element is non-negotiable."

Amoroso, in another report, noted that the media company will maintain the integrity of GMA Integrated News’ reporting as the AI-generated sportscasters “enhance” their NCAA coverage. 

"Maia and Marco are AI presenters, they are not journalists, they can never replace our seasoned broadcasters and colleagues who are the lifeblood of our organization,” he said. “As the leading news organization in the Philippines, we will constantly look for ways to hone our craft, while preserving the value of our human assets and the integrity of our reporting.”

The NMI Studios Head of Creatives, Ramil Escarda, also stressed that Maia and Marco are “not meant to replace human reporters but rather to serve as an innovative platform for presenting information to the viewer.” 

For Aileen Rae Perez, Assistant Vice President and Deputy Head for GMA Integrated News Social Media, it’s time to start a discussion on how generative AI could help the media industry with the network’s latest move as traditional media “is now being challenged by creators who are more adept at using AI and technology to deliver their own agenda.”  

“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," she said.

According to a 24 Oras report, Maia and Marco are expected to deliver their first sports reports on the social media platforms of GMA Integrated News, GMA Sports, and GMA Synergy as the 99th season of the NCAA kicks off on Sunday, Sept. 24. 

While this is a first for the Philippines, AI has been used in other countries for their media reports amid the rise in technological advancements across the globe. Tech Wire Asia reported that China introduced an AI news anchor in 2018 who had to be on duty for 24 hours a day on its website and social media channels, which “reduced news production costs.”

Kuwait News also introduced the first AI news presenter in the Middle East in April. According to the Tech Wire Asia report, some referred to the AI anchor as an innovation, but many likewise "expressed concern about the ethics of using AI in newsrooms."

Other countries that have started using the same technology in media include India with an AI-generated individual who presents bulletins, Indonesia with virtual presenters, Taiwan with an AI weather presenter, and Malaysia with two AI-generated staff who deliver news reports in Malay in evening broadcasts.