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Talking Heads: The use of virtual human presenters for the delivery of news content

Hawthorne, L. (2024). Talking Heads: The use of virtual human presenters for the delivery of news content. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


This research examines the use of photo-realistic, computer-simulated, anthropomorphic characters — ‘virtual humans’ — to present online news. It surveys news consumers; interviews media executives; and conducts a mini case study in order to understand how virtual humans can be deployed in news engagingly, ethically, and in a commercially beneficial way. 100 news consumers participated in an online video experiment where they rated levels of engagement, trustworthiness, and credibility in four visualisations of a news presenter — a real human, a 2D simple cartoon, a 3D cartoon caricature, and a 3D virtual human. Half of the participants also had their facial micro-expressions tracked as they watched the videos, to discern their non-conscious emotional reactions, using biometric software supplied by Affectiva Inc. While most participants expressed a strong preference for real humans, and concern virtual humans would diminish trust in news, several commercial and editorial opportunities were uncovered. Key among them — demographic groups that consume less news, or are less keen on using new technology, are most willing to watch virtual humans if the characters have convincing human-like aesthetics, or the service is delivered by trusted news brands. Engagement would be aided by personalised aesthetics and personalised content, and hampered by any perceived uncanniness in the designs. Five news genres were identified as best suited for early deployment of virtual human presenters, even while levels of photorealism in their design and animation are imperfect: (i) financial market reports; (ii) sports scores, (iii) weather reports, (iv) travel news, and (v) lighthearted stories.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA75 Electronic computers. Computer science
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Journalism
School of Communication & Creativity > School of Communication & Creativity Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses
[thumbnail of Hawthorne thesis 2024 PDF-A.pdf] Text - Accepted Version
This document is not freely accessible until 31 March 2027 due to copyright restrictions.


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