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BBC Shares Real Reason For AI Voiceover Following Mamma Mia Backlash

Last Updated March 29, 2024 2:06 PM
James Morales
Last Updated March 29, 2024 2:06 PM

Key Takeaways

  • The BBC came under fire this week for using an AI-generated voiceover instead of a real actor.
  • There was a fierce backlash after Mamma Mia! star Sara Poyz disclosed the news.
  • However, the broadcaster later explained that it had a good reason for using AI.

Earlier this week, the star of the Mamma Mia! West End musical production revealed that she had lost out on voiceover work after the BBC decided to use AI instead.

An immediate backlash followed with many critics condemning the AI voice impersonation. But in a statement  on Thursday, March 28, the broadcaster sought to justify its decision.

Why Did the BBC Use AI Voiceover?

In an X post on Monday, Mamma Mia! star Sara Poyzer shared a screenshot of a message explaining that she would not be needed anymore as the BBC had received the green light to use AI-generated voice in an unnamed production she was working on.

Responding to Poyzer’s revelation, fans and peers in the entertainment industry decried the BBC’s decision to substitute human voice actors with AI.

Acknowledging the furor, the organization explained that “there is some important context to this,” the public ought to be aware of.

“We are making a highly sensitive documentary which features a contributor who is nearing the end of life and is now unable to speak,” the statement said.

Because of this, the BBC said it has been working with the person’s family to explore how to best represent their voice at the end of the film when words they have written are read out.

“In these very particular circumstances and with the family’s wishes in mind we have agreed to use AI for a brief section to recreate a voice which can now no longer be heard.”

When AI-generated voice is used, however, the broadcaster said it will be clearly labeled.

BBC Lays Out AI Principles

The recent scandal surrounding Poyzer’s replacement by AI comes at a time when the BBC is experimenting with more uses of the technology.

In its guidance  on the matter, the BBC emphasizes the need to be transparent about when and why AI is used in different contexts:

Any use of AI by the BBC in the creation, presentation or distribution of content must be transparent and clear to the audience. The audience should be informed in a manner appropriate to the context and it may be helpful to explain not just that AI has been used but how and why it has been used.

The guidance clarifies that AI-generated content still needs to follow the same editorial guidelines as any other programming. Such content also requires the supervision of a “senior editorial figure who is responsible and accountable for overseeing its deployment and continuing use.”

Tim Davie Outlines BBC AI Strategy

During a speech  at the Royal Television Society on Tuesday, BBC director general Tim Davie outlined the broadcaster’s plans to incorporate AI into its operations.

Stating that the organization intends to “proactively deploy” generative AI tools, Davie said the BBC had plans to use the technology for fact-checking, translation and reformatting.

Commenting on the potential for more intelligent recommendation systems, the BBC boss said the corporation is developing “unique ethical algorithms that dramatically increase personalization but are not simply driven by the narrowing of an individual’s recommendations.”

“We want to keep other factors in play like serendipity; curiosity; and an interest in what our BBC editors may judge to be important stories,” he added.

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