Al Michaels generated by AI to provide highlights of the Paris Olympics

The Olympics have ancient origins. Now they will also have a dose of the latest technologies.

This year, the highlights of the Summer Olympics will be narrated by artificial intelligence, and more specifically, by Al Michaels’ AI-generated storytelling.

Executives at NBCUniversal and the Peacock streaming service said Wednesday that a customized daily highlight reel for the Olympics would be available to streaming subscribers. The reel will feature the voice of Mr Michaels, the 79-year-old American television host, who first covered the Olympics decades ago.

Mr. Michaels, however, will not hole up in a TV booth every night to succinctly recap the dozens of Olympic events that have taken place. Instead, Peacock's program was trained by NBC clips of Michaels — he joined the network in 2006 and was its longtime “Sunday Night Football” announcer — to formulate coherent, realistic-sounding sentences, who will “provide his distinctive expertise and elocution,” the company said.

Mr. Michaels has granted permission for the use of his voice.

“When they approached me about this, I was skeptical but obviously curious,” Mr. Michaels said in a statement released by the company. “Then I saw a demo that explained in detail what they had in mind. I said, ‘I’m in.’”

It raises a key question, reminiscent of Michaels' most famous Olympic call: Do NBCUniversal executives believe in miracles?

Since 1996, NBC has exclusively broadcast the Olympics in the United States, and the network has often found itself under intense public scrutiny for its coverage of the Games.

Handing over the keys to AI adds a new risk to the mix: AI-generated Al Michaels is almost guaranteed to garner interest given his novelty. And there have been no shortage of stories of embarrassing mistakes, yawns, and mildly alarming hallucinations as AI has become more widely available over the past 18 months.

Subscribers who want Peacock's daily highlights will be able to choose the Olympic events that interest them most and the type of highlights they want to see, such as viral clips, gold medals or knockout events.

From there, Peacock's AI machines will go to work each evening, pulling out the most important moments and putting them together into a personalized, tidy package. Mr. Michaels' recreated voice will be broadcast on the reels. (Humans will perform quality checks on AI highlight reels.)

NBCUniversal officials said they expect seven million different variations of personalized highlights during games. The highlights will appear in the Peacock app for users who opt in.

Brian Roberts, president of Comcast, NBCUniversal's parent company, debuted the new Al Michaels clip during an AI-Al reveal event (officially called “Your Daily Olympic Recap on Peacock”).

The germ of the idea, Mr. Roberts said, came from a meeting months ago, when executives from Comcast and NBCUniversal said: “What could we do with AI? How can we leverage AI purely for fun and for good?”

After showing a demonstration, Mr. Roberts, he added, “we are committed to inventing, innovating and developing something better again and again.”

The Olympics come at a crucial time for NBCUniversal. Peacock lost nearly $3 billion last year and is far behind rivals like Netflix or Disney+ in terms of total subscribers. But the streaming service has seen strong subscriber growth over the past year and has leaned on sports to achieve that goal. In January, Peacock showed the first-ever stream-only National Football League playoff game.

The Olympics, which begin July 26, will provide an entirely different test. In addition to daytime and primetime broadcasts on NBC and a number of cable networks, Peacock will play a leading role in the company's Olympic coverage and will stream every Olympic event.

Kelly Campbell, Peacock’s president, called the new AI tool a “game-changing breakthrough” in an interview and said that if it works, it could soon populate the streaming platform in other ways — perhaps Andy Cohen’s AI rehiring Bravo shows, she said.

“This version, for me, I want to do for every sporting event and show that we have on Peacock,” he said. “This is something that really differentiates. We’re in a sea of ​​sameness and to have something that really sets you apart is really cool.”

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