BBC exterminates AI experiments used to promote Doctor Who

Finally, a power greater than ML hype: Angry fandom

Pics The BBC has decided to exterminate its experiments using generative AI to promote venerable sci-fi show Doctor Who.

The broadcaster announced its intention to use AI to create some promos in early March, a move that earned it a thorough pasting from fans – including the folks behind the Doctor Who Companion website, which declared itself "absolutely disgusted." And doubly so, after the BBC took down the page on which it announced its intentions.

Thankfully the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine has preserved that page. It originally featured an article by David Housden, head of media inventory: digital, who revealed the following.

We will be creating human-written marketing copy for a Doctor Who push notification, email subject line and in the promotional rail on BBC Search – then we will be using generative AI to suggest copy variations which are then reviewed and approved by our marketing team before being shown to the audience. Their success will be measured by click-rates, open-rates, and post-impression conversion-rates across each channel.

Housden explained that the BBC decided to use Doctor Who for its very first generative AI marketing experiments because the venerable franchise "is a joint content priority for both BBC Public Service UK and BBC Studios marketing teams."

Moreover: "There's a rich variety of content in the Whoniverse collection on iPlayer to test and learn with, and Doctor Who thematically lends itself to AI which is a bonus."

It was not a bonus.

Unknown numbers of Whovians complained, leading the BBC to announce it had ended the experiment.

"We received complaints about reports that the BBC is exploring generative AI in Doctor Who promotion," the announcement concedes.

The BBC responded to those complaints as follows:

As part of a small trial, marketing teams used generative AI technology to help draft some text for two promotional emails and mobile notifications to highlight Doctor Who programming available on the BBC.

We followed all BBC editorial compliance processes and the final text was verified and signed-off by a member of the marketing team before it was sent. We have no plans to do this again to promote Doctor Who.

That wasn't enough for the folks at Doctor Who Companion, who don't want the BBC to use AI for any promotions, for any shows – ever.

And, as the site notes, Doctor Who himself has triumphed in plenty of battles against AI. The Doctor Who Wiki chronicles several similar battles across the extended Whoniverse of TV, books, and comics.

As The Register has often wearily noted, in 2024 it's almost impossible to escape hype about AI's inevitable ascent.

Now we have finally found a foe capable of defeating it: irate Whovians. ®

Bootnote: Using AI to create images for this story was too obvious a ploy to resist, as was employing it to make images that reflect the "I love Doctor Who, especially when he fights the Alien with a lightsaber" genre of deliberate nerd malapropism.

Your correspondent's current AI of choice, Leonardo, produced this beauty in response to the prompt "William Shatner dressed as Captain Kirk and brandishing a Doctor Who sonic screwdriver."

Captain Kirk with a sonic screwdriver

Captain Kirk with a sonic screwdriver – Click to enlarge

When we used the prompt "Doctor Who dressed in a Starfleet uniform" the AI produced the following.

Doctor Who in a Starfleet Uniform

Doctor Who in a Starfleet uniform – Click to enlarge

I reckon that's a pretty handy mashup of Starfleet style and the wardrobe worn by the 12th Doctor, Peter Capaldi.

But the image we decided to run with was generated with the prompt "Doctor Who fixing R2D2 with a sonic screwdriver."

Here it is, in all its magnificent wrongness.

Doctor Who fixing R2D2 with a sonic screwdriver

Doctor Who fixing R2D2 with a sonic screwdriver – Click to enlarge


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