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India Today features GenAI-powered TV anchor

By Sonali Verma

INMA

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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Let’s talk about a bold use of consumer-facing generative AI: A TV anchor that is allowed to interview India’s prime minister and its biggest movie star. 

India Today — which owns TV channels, digital channels, and a radio station — built a GenAI-powered anchor in three months and has even given it a spot on its prime time 9 p.m. news broadcast. The AI anchor, called Sana, speaks multiple languages in a consistent tone and style, has no learning curve (“Ask me anything under the sun — I am always ready,” it says), and can easily switch between topics and formats.

Within a few months, the media company had also rolled out AI avatars for its human anchors, ensuring undisrupted coverage even when the actual anchors are out in the field reporting, such as during the recent election.

“This is something that has been validated by sustained advertiser interest as well,” said Vibhor Gandotra, head of strategy and special projects at India Today.

Screen grab from YouTube of Sana, India Today’s AI-powered TV anchor, delivering the weather forecast for Mumbai.
Screen grab from YouTube of Sana, India Today’s AI-powered TV anchor, delivering the weather forecast for Mumbai.

The company first built the AI anchor to handle repetitive content, “mundane in nature, for which it became difficult for us to get a human element to deliver that particular piece of content,” Gandotra said, citing as an example India Today’s Superfast News, which pulls together 100 different news headlines into a 10- to 15-minute video package that can be viewed on YouTube. 

The project managed to overcome some early challenges, including immature technology that was expensive, as well as questions around legal and ethical implications.

“We had a very, very strong validation from our leadership team — a very ambitious vision and an aggressive timeline was set,” Gandotra told the INMA Generative AI master class in May.

They decided to keep the team small, to five or six people, so they could move quickly. They created small proofs of concept and socialised them with various internal newsroom teams, “and that is how the adoption really gained scale,” he said. As Sana was launched, “the various functions were really excited about the possibilities of what it could enable for their businesses.”

Building trust with India Today’s audience was a multi-step process, Gandotra said. The news brand featured Sana on its prime time slot to build familiarity and also created a social media avatar. Sana is also a radio host that reads the latest sports scores, traffic updates, and provides personalised content recommendations across Web sites, all to make them more visually appealing than simply text. 

Sana, which won two INMA Global Media awards in April, now provides content in several languages across the sub-continent. The India Today group reaches 750 million people a month.

Certain parts of programming are now AI-automated, such as weather and stock updates and horoscopes, while “other components that have a longer shelf life and are more research-driven are still human-collaborative,” Gandotra said. Human anchors focus on mainstream news and on-the-ground reporting, fostering content differentiation.

He exhorted his peers in the global media industry to dream big and be bold: “Our biggest key learning has been to adopt first, think later.”

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About Sonali Verma

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