The upcoming Wimbledon championships mark the last before All England Lawn and Tennis Club (AELTC) takes responsibility from the BBC as the tournament’s lead broadcaster, a shift that has seen it double-down on content production and experiment with new technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI).
The AELTC has been flexing its digital muscles for some time now, working with IBM over the past two years to overhaul its data-capabilities, website and apps, and forge tech partnerships in the hopes of shedding its self-described “stuffy” image.
As it stands, Wimbledon trebled its mobile audience last year, while its app was downloaded 1.5 million times in 2016.
Now, as it faces a future with greater control of its content output it’s testing the waters on how technology might help its still-limited team scale, particularly on video.
With an average of three matches per court per day there is hundreds of hours of footage an editor might have to sift through for a highlights reel. To that end, it has used AI for the first time to automatically create ‘video highlights packages’ that can be sent out to audiences directly or passed on to content partners within just 30 minutes, rather than the near hour is used to take.
IBM Watson – IBM’s AI platform – has “learned” which moments are important from ingesting thousands of hours match play; be it the noise of a crowd, the facial reaction of a player or the uptick in conversations in social media. Now, it will use these cues and generate a highlights video from the six main Show Courts, allowing the Wimbledon editorial team to scale and accelerate the video production process and expand the number of potential matches that are turned into highlight videos.
Efforts to further enhance its output have seen it bring its TV and Radio production teams together for the first time to provide coverage on the Live at Wimbledon channel from 9am (rather than 12noon) until the last hit of a ball each day.
Meanwhile, on the app, fans will find exclusive content, such as 360-degree videos explaining who is on the practice courts, which have previously been off-limits to cameras, at any given time.
“IBM’s technology innovations are critical to continuing our journey towards a great digital experience that ensures we connect with our fans across the globe – wherever they may be watching and from whatever device that may be,” said Alexandra Willis, head of communications, content and digital at the AELTC.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Weibo, WeChat all continue to be key distribution platforms throughout the two-week tournament. This year in particular the club will be working with Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook on exploiting its ‘Live’ stories functionality with bespoke content and filters.
All of this is a “test bed,” it said, for working out how it progresses in the coming years as lead broadcasters. But rather than the AELTC becoming competition for the likes of the BBC, Willis told The Drum the reasons are primarily linked to educating broadcasters outside of the UK on what Wimbledon is.
“It’s about recognising that [Wimbledon] is a global event and has global partners. As fantastic a partner as the BBC is and will continue to be – we’re celebrating 80 years working with them - their focus will always be and should be on the domestic audience,” she said.
“We know Wimbledon has fantastic brand awareness but is it truly understood? Some of our global partners don’t know what makes Wimbledon truly unique and why it’s different [to other tournaments]. And we need to help them. Taking over as host broadcaster is about that, it’s more in service of education so that we’re able to enable the things they want to.”
It will also mean that it can adapt to the different technology needs from partners globally and leverage untapped content opportunities that it would previously rely on the likes of the BBC backing.
“[The BBC] doesn’t broadcast from every court. If we wanted to put 360-degree cameras into every court we’d like to do that rather than relying on broadcasters to make that happen,” she explained.
There will be commercial gains to be had down the line, though, with Willis saying is the all goes to plan it should be able to “leverage more valuable commercial partnerships.”
The final ‘first’ for this year’s tournament comes in the form of an AI Assistant that will be on hand to help those at the tournament to make the most out of their visit.
It began experimenting with chatbots last year, initially thinking it might develop something to help people outside of the tournament on topics such as ticketing. However, realising that a chat-app’s success was predicated on being ‘pushed’ to ask a question it landed on a court-side assistant it has dubbed Fred, after famed-tennis player Fred Perry.
Similarly powered by IBM Watson technology, visitors can ask questions such as directions and where restaurants are but that will be expanded each year as it learns what people are looking for.
“At the heart of Wimbledon’s technology are IBM’s cognitive solutions delivering the best insights and analysis possible to the AELTC to encourage great fan engagement,” said Sam Seddon, Wimbledon client and programme ececutive, IBM.
“Cognitive computing is the next revolution in sports technology and working with us, Wimbledon is exposed to the foremost frontier of what technology can do, as we work together to achieve the best possible outcome for the brand and the event. Cognitive is now pervasive from driving the fan experience, to providing efficiency for digital editors to IT operations.”