For over four decades, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and European Athletics have been game-changers in introducing new technologies into their products. Their latest foray during the Krakow-Malopolska 2023 European Games was no different, promising a listening experience like no other.

During the event, the EBU featured a cloned voice in its radio presentation. From June 20-25, in Poland's Silesia region, listeners were treated to the synthetic voice of Great Britain’s former athlete, Hannah England. The challenge was to combine the live commentaries of European Athletics experts with summaries generated entirely by AI in a way that is indistinguishable from actual broadcasters. This innovative test was inspired by AI trends set by ChatGPT and earlier experiments by EBU's Swiss Romand member, Couleur 3, which showcased AI's vast potential in radio broadcasting.

The Challenge

The key challenge for this project centered around emotions. Sports are pulsating, exhilarating, and filled with emotional highs and lows. The EBU knew this and felt the pinch of traditional text-to-speech models that, in Micky Curling’s (the EBU's senior radio sports producer) words, led to a “frustration by the lack of emotion conveyed.” With traditional TTS not working as intended, the EBU set out to find more authentic, resonating, and emotional AI-cloned speech that does justice to the dynamism of sports.


The Solution

They found their answer in Respeecher with its long track record of successful AAA sport and media projects. The list contains projects like re-creating the voice of Manuel Rivera Morales for the Olympic Games or compiling a digital Vince Lombardi for Super Bowl LV

By cloning the voice of Hannah England, a former Team GB athlete, EBU hoped to redefine AI broadcasting. Valerii Zablotskyi-Drohan from Respeecher expressed their company’s enthusiasm, “It was a great honor to contribute to such a large-scale project. We’re happy to see that Respeecher’s AI technology was able to save them time and optimize resources. The intersection of athletics and AI gives way to so many new avenues for entertainment.”

Micky Curling had an experience that echoed this sentiment, highlighting the transformative power of voice cloning. "Using a real human voice as the source allowed us to build highs and lows into our speech output," he remarked. Emphasizing the precision of the process, he added, “We discovered the importance of perfecting the source voice... getting as close to the intended voice as possible was essential in creating an authentic output from Respeecher.”


The Results

So, did Respeecher’s voice cloning live up to the hype? Largely, yes. For most listeners, the line between a cloned voice and the real deal was blurred. Curling admitted, “Respeecher is able to achieve remarkable things. After a while, it became hard to imagine that you weren’t listening to a real person speaking.”

However, perfection is a journey, not a destination. Curling pointed out, “The shortcomings didn’t lie with Respeecher, but instead with the quality of the voice of the [source] actor.” A reminder that even with cutting-edge tech, human nuances matter.

As for the future, Curling hints at new possibilities, “The range of voices available in the Marketplace means that this remains a tool we’ll employ for creative production in the future.”

In a nutshell, the EBU and Respeecher’s collaboration has not only set the bar for AI in broadcasting but has also ignited a spark for what's next in the dynamic world of sports commentary. The ball, as they say, is now rolling!

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