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Once it has assembled and edited its material, News At Seven presents the content to its audience using avatars and text-to-speech (TTS) technology in a manner similar to the nightly news watched regularly by millions of Americans. The result is a cohesive, compelling performance that successfully combines techniques of modern news programming with features made by possible only by the fact that the system is, at its core, completely virtual.
There are three versions of News at Seven. The first version was begun in May of 2006, and was produced using the Half-Life 2 game engine and presented as a daily, three-minute long video. The system took about twenty minutes to pull down a popular news story from Yahoo! News, find related images, video, and blogs, generate the script, and create the video. This system was a good first pass, but because all the rendering was down on the server-side, it would never scale up to support personalized news for users.
The second version was begun in May of 2007 and launch in October. For this version, we abandoned the computationally-costly Half-Life 2 engine, and converted the system to using Flash and running right in the user's browser. Because the rendering was no longer done on the server, generating the script for a segment became much quicker (20 seconds instead of 20 minutes) and thus we were able to produce hundreds of segments a day. Visitors to NewsAtSeven.com were able to express their interests (Technology news and the Chicago Cubs for example) and the system would build a personalized news show and present it in realtime.
The third version of the system is explicitly designed to be funny and focuses on lighter news, like celebrity gossip and movie reviews. This version emphasizes generating dialogue and interactions between the anchors, and doesn't simply read a news story. This version was launched in the second half of September, 2008.
News at Seven is supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0535231.
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