The BBC Won’t Use AI to Promote Doctor Who Again After Being Yelled at by Fans

The BBC Won’t Use AI to Promote Doctor Who Again After Being Yelled at by Fans

In a delightful display of fucking around and finding out, the BBC recently decided to test the patience of the famously calm fandom that is the audience of Doctor Who by announcing that the sci-fi franchise was the perfect place for it to start experimenting with the use of generative AI in its marketing. Things did not go well.

“Generative AI offers a great opportunity to speed up making the extra assets to get more experiments live for more content that we are trying to promote,” BBC Head of Media Inventory David Housden told press earlier this month about the broadcaster’s plans to use both text and image-based AI models to promote its series. “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,” Housden added, barely realizing the sea of angry nerds he was about to rile who would then very rapidly remind him that the Cybermen exist for a reason.

The backlash was immediate, but it didn’t stop the BBC from using text generated by LLMs—and purportedly checked and copy-edited by a human before approval—in two marketing emails and mobile push notifications to advertise Doctor Who. But now, the corporation will stop the experimentation entirely after a wave of official complaints pushed them to offer a response to concerned audiences.

“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,” the official statement, now posted to the BBC’s official complaints forum, reads. “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,” the statement flatly concludes.

Doing this at any time would’ve been a spectacularly bad idea, but it was a particular own goal for the BBC at a moment where UK-based Doctor Who fans were already grumbling at how the broadcaster has chosen to roll out Ncuti Gatwa’s debut season as the Doctor, set to begin broadcasting at midnight local time on May 11—first airing on the BBC iPlayer streaming platform to coincide with a worldwide May 10 broadcast on Disney+, before airing on live television later that day. Poking an already annoyed fanbase with unnecessary content slop and trying to frame it as thematically coherent with Doctor Who’s ideals—a series about both scientific curiosity and skepticism, and about the triumph of human creativity and spirit in the face of all that, as well as occasionally running down a corridor from monsters—was just asking for trouble. At least, it seems, the lesson was learned.

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