The next Associated Press story you read about a Major League Baseball game may have been written by a robot.
Starting today, the global news network will publish MLB game preview stories automatically created by data-fueled machines built by Hero Sports, a Seattle-area startup that recently pivoted its business from a publishing site to a software-as-a-service platform called Data Skrive.
Founded in 2014, Hero Sports spent the past several years growing a college sports news content production engine — but it was coming at a cost. The company was paying writers on a per-article basis and future profitability wasn’t looking good.
That’s when Hero Sports brought in Brad Weitz, a veteran startup advisor with marketing technology expertise who took over as CEO and helped build software that automatically created sports news content using machine learning technology.
The original plan was to use the new system for stories on the Hero Sports website. But it quickly got the attention of The Associated Press, which was already generating robot-produced stories with a company called Automated Insights.
Data Skrive offered something similar, but its system also uses the company’s sports media landscape knowledge and analyzes search engine query data to create more compelling content, Weitz said.
“We apply the technology with a marketing discipline to make sure it optimizes reach,” Weitz said. “If you create a lot of content but no one sees it, it’s a waste of time.”
The Associated Press is also working with Sportradar to provide seasonal and historical data for its automated MLB stories. The first MLB story ran today, previewing a game between Chicago and Washington. Previously, The Associated Press did not produce any MLB games preview stories.
“We are excited about adding this next level of coverage,” Barry Bedlan, AP’s director of sports products, said in a statement. “Our editors have been impressed with the quality of the content being generated through this technology and the robust sports knowledge of the HERO Sports team.”
Now Hero Sports is getting inquiries from other organizations interested in automating content production not just for sports, but other verticals including finance, politice, real estate, education, and entertainment.
Job displacement caused by artificial intelligence and automation is a pressing concern. But Weitz said his company’s technology doesn’t remove human workers from the writing process altogether — it’s meant to help take care of mundane labor, freeing up writers to do something more valuable.
“There’s the fun saying, ‘it’s so easy a monkey could do it,'” Weitz said. “We want to be the monkey that takes away the stuff that distracts people from adding value to their business.”
Hero Sports employs 14 people. The company, which originally launched in 2014 as BennettRank, has raised $5.5 million to date. Chairman Gregg Bennett and co-founder Jordan Nilsen remain at the startup.