Now reporting from the Olympic Games: AI-Al Michaels

The Olympic Games have centuries-old beginnings. Now they’re also getting a dose of the latest technology.

This year, highlights from the Summer Olympics are brought to you by artificial intelligence – and more specifically, by Al Michaels’ AI-generated narration.

Executives from NBCUniversal and the streaming service Peacock said Wednesday that a custom, daily Olympics highlights reel would be available to streaming subscribers. The film will feature the voice of Mr. Michaels, the 79-year-old American broadcaster who first covered the Games decades ago.

But Mr. Michaels won’t be hiding in a television booth every night to deliver a quick recap of the dozens of Olympic events that have taken place. Instead, Peacock’s program has been trained on Mr. Michaels’ NBC clips — he joined the network in 2006 and was the longtime announcer on “Sunday Night Football” — to craft coherent, realistic-sounding sentences that “will showcase his signature expertise and eloquence,” the company said.

Mr. Michaels gave permission for his voice to be used.

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

It raises an important question, one reminiscent of Mr. Michaels’ words most famous olympic call: Do NBCUniversal executives believe in miracles?

Since 1996, NBC has broadcast the Olympic Games exclusively in the United States. The network regularly faces fierce public criticism for its coverage of the Games.

Handing over the keys to AI introduces a new risk into the mix: AI-generated Al Michaels is almost certain to generate interest given his novelty. And there’s been no shortage of stories of embarrassing mistakes, facial morphs, and mildly alarming hallucinations as AI has come into widespread use over the past 18 months.

Subscribers who want to watch daily highlights on Peacock can choose which Olympic events interest them most and which highlights they want to watch, such as viral clips, gold medal winners or elimination matches.

From there, Peacock’s AI machines go to work every night to pick out the most striking moments and put them together into a neat, tailor-made package. Mr. Michaels’s simulated voice will sound over the reels. (Humans will perform quality checks on the AI ​​highlight reels.)

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

Brian Roberts, the chairman of Comcast, the parent company of NBCUniversal, presented the new Al Michaels clip at an event to introduce AI-Al (officially called “Your Daily Olympic Recap on Peacock”).

The seed of the idea, Mr. Roberts said, was born at a meeting months ago, when executives from Comcast and NBCUniversal said, “What can we do with AI? How can we use AI purely for fun and for good?”

After giving a demonstration, Mr. Roberts added: “We pushed ourselves to keep inventing and innovating and building something better.”

The Olympics come at a pivotal 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 is leaning on sports to get it there. In January, Peacock broadcast the first streaming-only National Football League playoff game.

The Olympics, which begin July 26, will present a different test. In addition to daytime and primetime broadcasts on NBC and a slate of cable networks, Peacock will play a prominent role in the company’s Olympic coverage, streaming every Olympic event.

Peacock President Kelly Campbell called the new AI tool a “game changer” in an interview and said that if it works, the streaming platform could soon be populated in other ways — perhaps Andy Cohen will replicate AI for Bravo shows, she said.

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

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