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Parlez-Vous Podcasts? iHeart Testing AI For Show Translations.

By the end of March, iHeartMedia plans to debut between five and ten podcasts, originally created in English, translated into new languages including Spanish, French, German and Italian using artificial intelligence. Conal Byrne, CEO of the iHeartMedia Digital Audio Group, tells Digiday they are testing several generative AI tools that will transcribe podcast episodes, translate them, and then produce audio versions of the translations.

Bryne says it will help podcasting globalize beyond what has been a “U.S.-centric” medium for the past two decades. “This may be our best shot in a while for the podcast industry to globalize [and] to actually serve up content in-country, in-language around the world,” he told Digiday. While iHeartMedia is not yet ready to say which shows it will translate, they will reportedly be evergreen podcasts. Byrne declined to say if the translations will be labeled to alert listeners they had been created using AI.

While the use of AI is opening new opportunities, it is not the first time that iHeart has looked to take some of its English-language successes to the international market. It teamed with Tenderfoot TV to create a French language adaptation of its Monster shows, like Atlanta Monster, Monster: The Zodiac Killer, and Monster: DC Sniper, in podcasts called Le Monstre. And iHeartMedia has worked with Podimo to translate some of its shows into other languages under a partnership announced in 2020. That has, for instance, led to the debut of a Spanish-language adaptation of Forgotten: Women of Juarez known as Olvidadas: Las Muertas de Juárez.

Meantime, other companies are also looking at AI-powered translations. Spotify announced in September that it had launched a pilot project to develop translations for Armchair Expert with Dax Shepard, The Lex Fridman Podcast, The Bill Simmons Podcast, and The Diary of a CEO with Steven Bartlett using AI. It said it was developing versions in Spanish, French, and German—for a select number of catalog episodes and future episode releases.

Spotify’s Voice Translation tool leverages AI voice generation technology—to match the original speaker’s style, making for a more authentic listening experience that sounds more personal and natural than traditional dubbing. It means a podcast episode originally recorded in English can now be available in other languages while keeping the speaker’s distinctive speech characteristics. Spotify has created a dedicated Voice Translations Hub where users will see a collection of all of the voice-translated episodes.

“The AI voice translation thing is amazing, both for creators and consumers,” Spofiy CEO Daniel Ek said. “For consumers, especially in non-English language content, they generally have a lot less content to consume. And for many other creators, this is an ability for them to be able to go with their content through many more geographies that they currently aren't able to penetrate at all.”

During the company’s quarterly earnings call in October, Ek said that AI voice translation can lead to better engagement with users worldwide, which leads to better subscriber growth, and eventually higher revenue. “It's kind of this trifecta thing, but it really starts with improving the consumer and creator value proposition, which we're focused on and AI can be a real enabler there,” he said.

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