When tennis fans think about Tuesday night’s US Open competition, they’ll probably focus on how the 36-year-old Roger Federer, who is still recovering from a back injury, defeated the 19-year-old American Frances Taifoe in a five-set match. However, the event was also exciting from a technical standpoint because it was where IBM announced Watson Media, a cognitive learning platform that aims to shake up how digital content is created and presented to audiences.
IBM has renewed its longstanding partnership with the USTA, which started 28 years ago (long before there was the internet), and it will continue to help lead the organization through the digital era by preparing for the next phase. That includes dealing with the information overload that comes with being a sport that features multiple events and must deliver content to a global audience within a short time frame.
“The reality is that we’re a pop-up event,” Lew Sherr, USTA’s chief revenue officer, said at a media presentation held at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday. “We exist here for three weeks, and then we revert back to being a public park where people can rent courts, and most of what you see here is closed up and stored for a year.”
He then likened the US Open to packing an entire NBA season into a few weeks while broadcasting it to 201 countries and territories.
The Next Phase Of Digital
Based on the Watson cognitive learning platform, Watson Media offers a set of solutions that are targeted at the media and entertainment industry to solve key challenges. Specifically, it makes sure customers are happy with their platforms and products, improves operational efficiency and helps them monetize in new ways.
In the case of events like the US Open, Watson is being put to work in a variety of ways, including the Slam Tracker, an analytics tool that provides deeper insights into matches. But most notably, it helps create and organize highlight clips (Cognitive Highlights) from an ocean of footage and a multitude of matches to identify the best moments to put on digital platforms and social media. It does so by measuring and recognizing three criteria: point score (and at what point in the game it is), player gestures and crowd cheering.
“Heineken, for example, is able to distribute highlights over Twitter,” said Sherr. “We’re getting smarter and smarter about finding ways to connect our partners in a different realm—not just on-site with signs on the court and booths with giveaways. It’s about how we can leverage these platforms to reach hundreds of millions of people, and that changes the game for all of us. We think of ourselves much differently.”
Another means of engagement is through the Cognitive Concierge, which uses natural language capabilities to help users find what they’re looking for. For example, users can tell it that they’re hungry and it will help make recommendations. Users can also ask questions like where to buy tickets and what those tickets give access to. In addition to being a great feature for fans, it is also a means of generating revenue for the USTA. American Express is one of the sponsors for the Cognitive Concierge as part of its fan experiences at the US Open.
“For an organization like ours, we’re in the business of growing the game of tennis,” said Sherr. “We’re not in the technology business, and we’re not even in the events business. As an organization, we exist to grow the game of tennis, encourage people to play and improve the quality of life . . . As an organization, our goal is to be the greatest sports and entertainment event in the world—and certainly in tennis, we are the spectacular slam—and there’s a responsibility to provide technology that allows folks to do that.”
Kirsten Corio, USTA’s managing director of digital strategy, added that, “We have to deliver content in near real-time across the suite of digital platforms—across USOpen.org, the official website, as well as the US Open apps that we’ve continually innovated to bring more features to life for fans, giving them all this data at their fingertips.”
To this end, the US Open app offers push notifications so that fans know when highlights or information about their favorite players are up.
How Watson Enhances Media
The US Open attracts over 700,000 people each year, and that doesn’t include the digital audience. Sherr recounted how when the event first began, sponsors such as American Express were entirely local to New York City. As time passed, national and international brands such as Emirates Airlines and Mercedes-Benz joined.
“We view ourselves a global property like the World Cup or the Olympics,” said Sherr. He also stated that IBM’s technology allows the USTA to engage with fans all over the world, and that engagement has created revenue opportunities.
David Kulczar, senior offering manager for Watson Media, told AListDaily that the platform was bringing five core solutions to events. These include Cognitive Highlights, automated closed captioning (which is key to video production, especially as they cover more channels and events), automatic content search and discovery for clips that span decades, personalized recommendations like the Cognitive Concierge and logo identification.
Logo identification may be of particular interest for brands.
“If I were an advertiser, I could understand when my product placements are in frame and whether it’s working,” said Kulczar. “They can know for certain at what point it was in frame and for how long. That’s another key solution where we can help people monetize and understand the value of their ad spend.”
Kulczaralso said that Watson is learning more about the fans themselves through activities on the Fan Insights and Audience Insights applications. “We’re looking at consumer habits and trying to use those habits to help us identify how we can better appeal to consumers within a fan experience inside a stadium,” he said.
The long-term goal for Watson Media is to expand fully and be widely accepted in media and entertainment looking to other verticals. “Every major industry uses video, and I think they can all benefit from the automation solutions that we’re bringing to market,” Kulczar explained.
Engaging With The Right Language
Cognitive Highlights form a strong foundation for how AI platforms can engage audiences, but Noah Syken, IBM’s vice president of sports and entertainment partnerships, discussed the power of natural language recognition.
“Part of the Watson capability is to understand natural language—understand how people talk,” Syken told AListDaily. “From a marketing standpoint, we’re using this already to understand what kind of language that is going to resonate with certain audiences, and interacting with audiences using the right language. If athletes understood who their fans were, how they communicated and what’s important to them through natural language, they could put content out there that resonates more strongly without having to guess how to interact. That notion of language recognition, understanding the intent of language and applying that to marketing capabilities and fan interactions—whether it’s the USTA or Roger Federer—I think the same capabilities apply.”
Syken also noted how the Cognitive Concierge as a powerful way for brands to connect with audiences.
“For many years, American Express has been a sponsor of the US Open and the fan experience,” said Syken. “But the USTA wants to offer new products and solutions to Amex, so there’s the notion of making the fan experience even better and more personalized, delivering more value to fans and partners.”
According to Syken, Watson Media aims to give media companies more value from their content. A part of how it can help do that is by providing a deeper level of understanding of the content within the media as Watson creates highlight clips, automatically sorts out the best ones and cross references them according to various topics. Syken suggested the sponsors might want to integrate their brands with the conversations that arise from that kind of organization.
“With tons of video happening out there—that deeper understanding of what’s happening within the videos, and connecting particular brands with particular flavors of content that go to a deeper level than search intent is one way to think about sponsor opportunities.”
Perhaps Sherr summed up the importance of Watson Media best.
“It’s not just the lobster rolls and champagne that we try to monetize here at the Open; it’s trying to find ways to monetize those digital experiences. Or, if nothing else, deliver more value and bring folks in and let them experience the event with the hope that they may want to come here on site.”