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[Marketing-interactive] RTHK unveils first AI anchor: An opportunity or threat to media firms?

Last month, Hong Kong’s public broadcaster RTHK introduced the first artificial intelligence (AI) anchor Aida (pictured) in the city, which will be hosting the routine weather report from Monday to Friday. This has gotten the public and media professionals talking as to whether this move will be a threat or an opportunity for the media industry.

The first artificial intelligence (AI) anchor Aida in the city.
The first artificial intelligence (AI) anchor Aida in the city.

Media intelligence firm CARMA saw over 600 mentions related to the AI anchor since 24 June, with 20.3% negative and only 10.5% positive sentiments across local social platforms.

Netizens who appreciated the innovation were countered by those who criticised flaws in Aida's design, particularly its deformed body figures, which some found terrifying and creepy, said Charles Cheung, CARMA’s HK GM. “Negative mentions were primarily found on YouTube and LIHKG. These users pointed out that Aida is not as advanced as RTHK claimed, and many believed that Aida is generated by Talking Photos, an AI avatar with better lip syncing and rendering speeds,” he added.

In a conversation with MARKETING-INTERACTIVE, a spokesperson from RTHK said the Aida’s expressions, voice, lip movements and actions are created entirely through AI virtual avatar technology synthesised by computers, without the need for an actual person to imitate.

The spokesperson added that the AI technology streamlined the programme production process and made updating data easier.

Aida is an experimental project of RTHK's AI applications. We are currently developing an improved Aida 2.0, which we will continue to refine by optimising her speech, fluency, and on-air presence to enhance her performance.

Possible reasons behind the move

While AI is making waves across various industries globally, industry players MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to agreed that the media sector is jumping on the bandwagon. For example, China’s state news agency Xinhua introduced AI-powered anchors back in 2018 to produce more efficient and accurate news reports. More regions across Asia such as Indonesia, Taiwan, South Korea and India, are also debuting AI news anchors.

Bruce Lui, senior lecturer, department of Journalism, Hong Kong Baptist University and former anchor at TVB said that since RTHK is a government department, it may have a higher budget for developing innovation and technology. He added:

Plus, it may be required to hit certain policies, therefore, it may take more initiative to do so.

Cost reduction and enhancing efficiency are also reasons behind the move, said Lierence Li, managing director at Market Hubs. “As AI anchors can work tirelessly around the clock, it can save time for makeup compared with human anchors.”

Li also said that RTHK aimed to raise discussions regarding tech and AI with this move, “When other news organisations follow RTHK’s move, the impact on social sentiment may not be this influencial,” said Li.

Will it replace all human anchors?

True enough, AI anchors can perform simple tasks such as script reading, which may be beneficial to media firms as a cost-cutting tool.

However, HKBU’s Lui believed that the current AI development can’t beat human news anchors as they need to have strong comprehensive analysis skills, especially when reporting breaking news. He added:

When news anchors are reporting breaking news, they will receive different information from all sides such as different video clips, government announcements, other live reports, as well as directions from the news editor.

Hence, news anchors need to possess the ability to communicate with the audience, to be sincere and humane. “Although AI anchors may have high ability to learn skills from large number of human anchors, they may not be able to sound empathetic,” he added.

Agreeing with Lui was Francis Fong, honorary president of Hong Kong Information Technology Federation, who believed that human anchors won’t be replaced by AI anchors within five years as the current AI development has not fully developed its on-the-spot reaction. Instead, audience acceptance is key as viewership is one of the most important KPIs for news organisations, he added.

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