Noel D'souza
Aug 27, 2023

Want to ethically report on the news regardless of the tech advancements that come into play: Network18

Sunil Sharma, chief product and technology officer, Network18, delves into the role of technology in supporting a newsroom and how to balance digital innovations with journalistic integrity

Want to ethically report on the news regardless of the tech advancements that come into play: Network18

Network18 is aiming to revolutionise news content delivery and user experiences through the convergence of technology, a diverse pool of talent and an integrated newsroom. 

The recent introduction of AI Kaur, an AI anchor, by News18 Punjab and Haryana, stands as a testament to the group's endeavour to disrupt the news ecosystem.

Campaign India spoke to Sunil Sharma, chief product and technology officer, Network18, on how the network aims to redefine the media-tech landscape for its network properties, paint vibrant stories through the canvas of technology and maintain journalistic credibility through these developments. 

Edited excerpts: 

How has the convergence of digital and broadcast teams across editorial, business, and operations transformed Network18's approach to content creation and delivery? 

We have been on this journey of convergence for a few months now and have started seeing great results. With these converged media-tech advancements within and outside the newsrooms, we have been able to surge our news content and provide more stories to our audiences. 

With this convergence, we have been able to view all the news reportage and decide the right channel  (television or digital) to publish to. We essentially can look at a lot more stories that come in through our reporters together as a team and can push out more content. 

In essence, our focus revolves around enhancing the entire operational experience across the newsroom, spanning from reporters and editors to designers. We're introducing new processes that aim to optimise various aspects. Some of these processes have reached a mature stage, while others are still a work in progress, anticipated to reach maturity over the next few weeks or months.

The overarching goal is to augment the capabilities of our newsroom experts using technology. The intention is to enable our news teams to achieve more within the same timeframe. Essentially, we're leveraging the pervasive nature of technology to support decision-making. 

We believe that our human capital should be reserved for high-judgment tasks, while technology serves as the foundation for everything else. In a world where technology is ubiquitous, this strategy aligns with the idea that human skills are best utilised for tasks that require critical thinking, while technology serves as a powerful tool for efficiency and augmentation.

The introduction of AI Kaur as an AI anchor on News18 Punjab/Haryana was a significant step. Can you share the thought process behind this initiative and how you envision the role of AI anchors and similar innovations in shaping the future of news presentation?

The history of artificial intelligence dates back to the 1950s, evolving in various forms over time. Before the emergence of generative AI, there was a notable focus on machine learning, deep learning, and computer vision. Generative AI, however, has brought about a transformative shift in how businesses and individuals approach technology adoption with remarkable accessibility.

Within our industry, a term in play is 'automated journalism'. Although not to be taken literally as automatic journalism, which demands significant responsibility, media entities are exploring ways to handle more structural aspects through Gen AI, leaving out the delivery of content tailored to human emotions and expressions. 

This new technology aims to reshape content delivery. Take sports news, commodity prices, or factual pieces, for instance; these require conveying information repetitively throughout the day. This concept finds application here.

These endeavours are essentially experimental, and as we progress, we'll discern which use cases mature more rapidly than others.

How are disruptive technologies like generative AI shaping the future of news delivery and audience engagement, particularly in terms of localising stories and improving content distribution?

Addressing the topic of content creation and verification, it's crucial to highlight the concept of augmented fact-checking. The process of verifying information is essential given the uncertainty surrounding the training data and sources that AI models are based on. 

There remains a level of scepticism regarding trusting publicly available information generated by AI models unless media houses train the language models on their own verified data sets. 

Moving to the consumer side, at this point generative AI. While generative AI is somewhat limited apart from search applications, recommendation systems, which involve personalisation and localisation, have been in play for many years now. One notable advantage that emerges is the ease of localising stories into various languages. Manual tasks like creating subtitles or translating stories into multiple languages are facilitated by machine learning, eliminating some of the manual workload.

Furthermore, machine learning has proven adept at understanding consumer preferences, not just based on their location but also considering their past interaction history. This enables effective targeting and recommendations tailored to individual viewers.

Given our presence across various states and languages, we already have strong teams and focus on producing content that is local and relevant. Our fundamental purpose is to deliver breaking stories to our audience. Therefore, it's not a matter of prioritising English or Hindi over other languages or national over regional. 

Have AI technologies experienced an increase in audience engagement, or are people hesitant to embrace them due to concerns about credibility and trustworthiness?

We've observed a significant increase in our consumer base and engagement, largely attributed to the process of convergence. This has positively impacted our features and coverage timespan. 

Can you provide specific instances where data and monetisation management tools have significantly contributed to improving the quality of the Group's digital offerings and fostering revenue growth?

The analytics and insights at our disposal empower us to streamline our content delivery and tailor it to our audiences' preferences, essentially enhancing the personalisation process. On the other hand, the monetisation aspect models are relatively consistent, particularly regarding monetisation channels and mechanisms. Subscription models and viewership metrics retain their significance. 

However, the true value of analytics lies in their ability to provide deeper relevance. This applies universally to our audience, potentially magnifying the impact on metrics such as click-through rates (CTR) and cost per mile (CPM), thus amplifying engagement and revenue potential.

Looking ahead, what are your key priorities and objectives for further evolving Network18's tech capabilities?

We are currently undergoing a transformative shift, evolving into a media organisation that is fundamentally focused on transitioning from a technical orientation to a more business-oriented approach. The crux of this transformation lies in how we strategically adopt and seamlessly integrate technology throughout our operations and the feedback loop from the consumers. 

Our journey forward entails a dual trajectory. Firstly, we are dedicated to enhancing efficiency and innovation across the entirety of our supply chain. This entails analysing every aspect of our processes to uncover opportunities for innovation. Concurrently, we maintain an unwavering commitment to exploring the realm of machine learning and deep learning. These technologies are harnessed not only to refine content generation but also to augment operational efficiency and enhance the overall consumer experience.

In essence, our path involves a comprehensive reevaluation of our operational strategies and the strategic infusion of advanced technologies to drive our evolution into a more technology led business. 

At its core, our commitment to the news business highlights the unwavering importance of responsible journalism and ethical reporting, regardless of the technological advancements that come into play.

Campaign India

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