Artificial intelligence (AI) commentators are making their presence felt in the realm of sports broadcasting, contributing to both excitement and debate. High-profile competitions, including the Masters golf tournament and Wimbledon tennis championships, have embraced AI technology to automatically narrate select highlight videos available on their respective websites and apps.
The integration of AI commentary, a trend gaining traction, has generated conversations around its impact on the industry and the future of human commentators. In June, Eurovision Sport, a branch of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), incorporated AI voices to deliver recaps during live commentary breaks at the European Athletics Team Championships held in Poland. Looking ahead, the upcoming U.S. Open is set to employ AI commentary, a collaboration facilitated by IBM, the creator of the AI technology used in the Masters and Wimbledon tournaments.
IBM's generative AI platform, watsonx, powered the AI commentary at both the Masters and Wimbledon, producing narration for over 20,000 video clips on the Masters app alone. The use of AI technology enables the swift generation of audio commentary, which in turn enables coverage of events that previously lacked commentary. IBM's Noah Syken emphasised that AI serves as an assistant to human commentators, enhancing certain aspects of their work rather than replacing them entirely.
While AI commentary is heralded for its efficiency in summarising events and covering less prominent matches, some sports enthusiasts have expressed reservations about its emotive capabilities. AI voices have been criticized for lacking the emotional inflection and engagement that human commentators provide, potentially affecting the overall viewer experience.
One notable experiment in the European Athletics Team Championships involved cloning commentator Hannah England's voice for AI commentary. The realistic rendering of 'AI Hannah's' voice prompted the addition of disclaimers before AI commentary segments, ensuring listeners are aware that they are hearing generated content.
Despite some initial criticism and challenges, AI commentators are making strides. IBM's ongoing efforts include training AI models to adapt to different sports' vocabularies and dialects, expanding AI's language capabilities for a more inclusive commentary experience.
The adoption of AI commentary coincides with broader changes in the sports broadcasting landscape, including shifts towards streaming and the decline of traditional media viewership. While AI may not completely replace human commentators, its potential to streamline coverage, reduce costs, and enhance accessibility to events is prompting further exploration within the industry. As technology continues to advance, the role of AI in sports broadcasting remains a topic of intrigue and discussion.