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Viewpoint: Can you spot the Parisian hub?

TCL is using real voice actors to record dialogue for AI-produced characters. Why didn't the company go all the way?

TCL is using real voice actors to record dialogue for AI-produced characters. Why didn't the company go all the way?

"Next Stop Paris" is the first original series produced by TCL TV Plus Studios, and features voiceover actors providing dialogue for AI-generated characters.
“Next Stop Paris” is the first original series produced by TCL TV Plus Studios, and features voiceover actors providing dialogue for AI-generated characters. (Screen capture by The Desk)

First stop, Paris. Actually, it’s called Next Stop Paris — an original film produced by TCL, a firm better known for making TVs, soundbars, washing machines, and air conditioners than movies. They did what you’d think techy people would do. They used AI to create the characters. The “original” movie will run on TCL’s free, ad-supported streaming service, TCL TV PLUS. Remember the good old days when we’d just call TV and watch real people? There’s still one twist.


TCL is using real voiceover actors for AI characters. What? Why? Why would someone take half a walk? I mean, if you’re going to create characters with AI, why not finish the job with AI voices? It’s not like the audience thinks AI characters are real. TCL is not going to trick anyone into thinking they’re watching real people because the voices are better. Not that TCL is trying to trick viewers.

So, my only logical take on this is this… The cost to shoot video — actors, sets, film crews, production, etc. is très cher.

Getting non-brand name voices to overdub lines in a studio is relatively small. Voice actors get $2000 to $5000 to record an entire audiobook. Radio spots, TV commercials, and voicing video game characters can be as low $100. So, that’s one reason.

Here’s my slightly better take.

Even a decade ago, 95 percent of apps in the App Store weren’t used. In this mega-media era, there’s even more media and even more waste. A show that isn’t watched on an ad-supported streaming service is literally worthless. So, you need to promote your media. AI characters can’t promote shows or movies on Fallon’s couch or with the ladies on the View.

Has TCL gamed the movie business? Maybe. They have squeezed all the people (read costs) they can out of production and used real people as the low-cost, last mile promotional solution to ensure there’s someone for People.com to interview. Real people have real fans and a presence on social media to promote the things they do. Every mom puts macaroni art on a fridge, and most fans will like posts. That’s how real voice actors can bring in the first real watchers to get the promotional ball rolling. You’re getting that “real” is a big part of the story, right?

If my more rambling reason about real voices resonates, it speaks volumes about the way AI will be used. All the backend right up to the point where product and services are made will be AI. The parts of the business — sales — that interact with buyers will need people.

Which lines up really nicely with this rumor. Google may buy HubSpot. The Chief Strategy Officer at the Content Marketing Institute would give Google data about 200,000 small- and mid-sized businesses. I think he’s wrong. Google already knows everyone and everything. I told my friend, Judy, that Google was buying HubSpot for the words that go into all those emails to train its AI. She thinks I’m wrong.

Then, she shared her thesis. “It’s about sales.” As famously as Tesla never paid for real ads, Google never had real sales or customer success people. It was the ultimate do-it-yourself business. No one at Google ever helped you buy anything. If you got stuck, tough.

Google is more trouble than people realize. These days, they need to people to buy, so they need people to sell.

Just like TCL needs real people to voice their characters. The last mile from product to buyer still needs to be human. Even at Google. But, good news. It also happens to be the cheapest touchpoint.

Or, you know, voice AI isn’t up to snuff. But I like Judy’s thinking on this better.


Charles Benaiah is the CEO of Watzan, a techy company for medical media. When he’s not running a media company, he reads about media, thinks about it, pull out what’s left of his hair dealing with it, and then he writes about it over on Funny Business (formerly unCharles). Follow him on LinkedIn by clicking or tapping here

The opinion reflected in this article is the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of TheDesk.net or its parent company, Solano Media LLC.

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About the Author:

Charles Benaiah

Charles Benaiah is the CEO of Watzan and writes the "unCharles" column on Substack.
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