China-owned streamer iQiyi has been ramping up its use of artificial intelligence across productions as a result of the lasting impact of the pandemic.
Kelvin Yau, head of southeast Asia for iQiyi International, told delegates at Singapore’s Asia TV Forum on Thursday that the Baidu-owned streaming service has explored “new opportunities” in AI due to the COVID crisis, which has had a crippling effect across numerous industries in China due to strict, enduring government restrictions.
iQiyi’s deep-seated connections in the tech sector “allowed us to accelerate innovation in production” and invest heavily in AI and 5G, said Yau. The streamer’s production team, for example, now includes engineers, too, and there are extensive facilities within iQiyi’s China operations for “extended reality.”
“In China, we made an 8-metre by 33-metre screen out of 12 huge LED panels, each with high-tech workstations,” said Yau. “The nice thing is when people can’t travel much within the country, you can get everyone into one location, get all the actors standing in front of that screen, and then you can do all your filming there, regardless of other limitations.”
AI is also being used in voice conversion technology for dubbing. Yau explained that two voice actors can be used to create 10 voices. Once again, the executive cited the pandemic as the impetus behind creating the technology.
“Most voice actors don’t want to be packed in recording rooms, so we invented this tech so we can use a limited number of voice actors but adapt [their voices] into different tones,” said Yau. “That’s important for us to expand into southeast Asia.”
AI has been a focus for iQiyi for a number of years. At Mipcom in 2018, iQiyi founder Gong Yu promised that the technology would “reshape the entertainment industry” over the next 10 to 15 years, “much more so than the Internet did over the past three decades.”
iQiyi is now using AI on a “number of projects” and the tech could be deployed and replicated outside China as well — namely in southeast Asia, where iQiyi has focused the bulk of its expansion outside China, and made inroads in countries such as Malaysia and Thailand.
Yau also noted that Singapore’s just-announced investment in virtual production is “definitely an opportunity for us.”
Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) revealed on Wednesday that it is launching an SGD5 million ($3.6 million) Virtual Production Innovation Fund, which is designed to support the local media industry to develop capabilities needed to harness virtual production technology. The technology uses LED screens to display realistic background environments for TV or film scenes, powered by a video game engine, so that the camera is able to capture actors and visual effects in real-time.
“This technology is developed by our home [country], so we could export it to other markets,” said Yau.