AI-Generated Al Michaels to Tell Paris Olympics Highlights

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

This year, the highlights of the Summer Olympics will be told by artificial intelligence and, more specifically, by Al Michaels' AI-generated narration.

Executives at NBCUniversal and the Peacock streaming service said Wednesday that a daily personalized video of Olympic highlights will be available to streaming subscribers. The video 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 be holed up in a broadcast booth every night to briefly summarize the dozens of Olympic events that have taken place. Instead, the Peacock program has been trained by NBC clips of Mr. Michaels (he joined the network in 2006 and was its longtime “Sunday Night Football” announcer) to craft coherent, matter-of-fact sentences, which will “provide his signature skill and diction,” the company said.

Mr. Michaels granted approval 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’s more famous Olympic call: Do NBCUniversal executives believe in miracles?

NBC has exclusively broadcast the Olympics in the United States since 1996, and the network often finds itself subject to intense public scrutiny for its coverage of the Games.

Handing the keys to AI adds a new risk to the mix: AI-generated Al Michaels is almost certain to generate interest given its novelty. And there have been no shortage of tales of embarrassing mistakes, falling faces, and mildly alarming hallucinations as AI has exploded into widespread use over the past 18 months.

Subscribers who want to see daily Peacock 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 competitions.

From there, Peacock’s AI machines will go to work each night churning out the most notable moments and putting them together in a neat custom package. Mr. Michaels’ recreated voice will be broadcast across the reels. (Humans will do quality checks on the AI ​​highlight reels.)

NBCUniversal officials said they were anticipating seven million different variations of custom highlights during games. Highlights will appear in the Peacock app for users who sign up.

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 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 lags far behind rivals like Netflix or Disney+ in total subscribers. But the streaming service has seen strong subscriber growth over the past year and has leaned on sports to help it get there. In January, Peacock streamed the first National Football League playoff game.

The Olympics, which begin July 26, are a different test altogether. In addition to daytime and primetime broadcasts on NBC and a number of cable networks, Peacock will play a prominent role in the company’s Olympic coverage and will live 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 it 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 ​​identities and having something that really sets you apart is pretty awesome.

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