Watch “AI Virtual Humans in Broadcast News” from NAB Show New York.
- Marc Scarpa, CEO and founder of Defiance Media, shares his company’s approach to creating a custom virtual news Anchor, Raxana, and how they built a bespoke virtual studio for around-the-clock broadcast news.
- Rather than focus on “deepfakes” and “fake news,” Scarpa talked up the benefits of leveraging AI, along with human expertise, to accurately produce stories while reducing production times and costs.
- Scarpa says live reporting, from sports or news events, and investigative and foreign journalists have nothing to fear from AI (yet).
Virtual humans are emerging as a game-changing phenomenon, especially in the news and the journalism category. In a fireside chat at NAB Show New York, entitled “AI Virtual Humans in Broadcast News,” Marc Scarpa, the CEO and Founder of Defiance Media, shared his company’s approach to creating a custom virtual news anchor, Raxana. He also said AI news anchors were primed and ready for local news network adoption. Watch the full discussion in the video at the top of the page.
“Local news is really in trouble and suffering in terms of just operational costs. I think that you are definitely going to see virtual humans being used on a local news level here in the States and certainly for just straight reporting,” he said. “AI can’t compare with live field reporting just now, but you can’t have a virtual news anchor and toss to a field reporter. So that’s totally possible. These are things that it’s just a matter of time.”
In a video clip Scarpa shared, Raxana explained who she is and how Defiance produces its news: “I’m an AI powered virtual twin news anchor for Defiance Daily. They are the company who powers my lifelike presence, which is based upon an actual human. Yes, there is a human version of me out there, go find her!” she urged.
“The way we select news stories we run is pretty traditional. Our human editorial director selects press releases from accredited sources and global breaking news outlets. From there, we use ChatGPT to shape our scripts, which helps our editorial director write our stories, making complex topics easier to understand. We utilize cloud-based editing software, so our team can be anywhere in the world creating captivating graphics and visuals that complement our storytelling,” she continued.
“In our news package, we also utilize our growing library of interviews with innovators and entrepreneurs. And as Getty editorial partners, we are able to source from their massive library which is available in real time. Sometimes, if I’m feeling fancy, I’ll even use Midjourney’s AI art software to give you as a taste of my artistic side.
“Imagine a future where the news is delivered by AI powered virtual twin anchors in over 30 languages in real time, all around the world, redefining the way we consume the news.”
Following the promo, Scarpa detailed how his company wanted to fully embrace AI and video news reporting. The business model is much the same as regular news. One difference is distribution efficiency. The AI model allows Defiance to take the same package and translate it in up to about 45 different languages immediately.
“So in essence, we can have 45 different sponsors, based upon language around the same news package.”
We learn that the real Raxana is a model originally from Kazakhstan who now lives in Miami.
“We took her to a Bitcoin Conference in Miami and it was hilarious, because people would come up to her and be like, ‘We watch your news program every day?’ They just thought it was a woman in a virtual studio as opposed to a virtual human in a virtual studio.”
However, the model for Raxana had her likeness “bought out” by Defiance for her digital likeness to be used. “We were very clear on what the use case was. I can’t take her license, for example, and use it in a feature film if I wanted to, unless I use her in a future film as Raxana, the broadcast journalist,” Scarpa said.
In Hollywood and the media industry in general there’s a lot of fear around AI taking jobs. Defiance’s workflow though is currently very much a balance between automation and human.
“AI is your friend because, ultimately, it’s saving a ton of time,” he says. “We’re really utilizing AI across the board. It’s not just the virtual human element. And yes, there is a human who’s our editorial director, and she ultimately curates what stories we decide to run.”
However, Scarpa does imagine a near future where conversational AI with virtual humans is commonplace. In broadcast news, he see’s AI’s role as more behind the scenes, performing the edits, the program wrappers, and the scripts.
“It’s all pretty formatted anyway. Why waste hours of a talent’s valuable time when they can spend hours more working on stories and preparing for interviews?” he asks. “It doesn’t mean that camera crews going away, it just means that you’re freeing up that studio time to be able to do something else that would be more productive and more, intelligent, if you will.”
As far as Scarpa is concerned, Defiance Media would not exist were it not for the speed and smarts of AI.
“We’re a global broadcast media outlet reaching 150 million households but we’re ultimately an independent media company. To operate a 24 hour broadcast studio, with actual humans and spending millions of dollars on systems integration and building out that studio, and then trying to find a host that can speak 45 languages — it’s just not possible. So AI really opens up your world in a whole new way,” he explained.
“We’re not doing investigative journalism. I have a huge amount of respect for investigative journalists, especially the ones that right now are on the front lines in the wars are happening in this world. Those people live and die to get us some version of the truth. And I think that the craft of investigative news journalism is highly underrated and very under appreciated,” he added.
“We’re not doing that. We’re just focusing on innovation.”