Wimbledon targets Asian fans 'nirvana' with lite app

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An IBM technician poses with screens showing IBM's AI-generated highlights of play on the sixth day of the 2019 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Lawn Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, in this July 6, 2019 file photo. — AFP

LONDON — Wimbledon has unleashed a new lightweight app to try and hook the growing tennis-loving market in Asia, while AI-generated highlights are getting smarter at spotting the most exciting action.

The official Wimbledon app is packed with heavy graphics but the new, slimmed-down alternative is designed for fans in places with poorer bandwidth and older smartphones — especially India.

The prestigious tennis tournament reckons it can potentially reach several hundred million people in India who are interested in the championships but can only download data over slow mobile phone networks.

The slimmer app has lightweight scores, results, headlines and the order of play.

"India is one of the largest social media audiences for them globally," said Sam Seddon, IBM's client executive for Wimbledon.

"That's the nirvana fan base."

Wimbledon is also producing a Chinese scoreboard that can be embedded into websites in a bid to reach a bigger Chinese audience.

Every single shot at Wimbledon is logged by US technology giants IBM, with up to 180 staff capturing 4.8 million bits of information.

Their statisticians have been refining their artificial intelligence-generated video clips.

By monitoring a mixture of crowd noise, match analysis of key moments such as break points and player reactions, an overall excitement factor is produced for each passage of play.

But IBM has detected inadvertent bias in the AI system, which this year it has managed to iron out.

Seddon gave the example of a three-hour epic match on Centre Court.

"The place is full and everyone is screaming and cheering," he said.

Once it finishes, people step out for a breather.

"It doesn't matter who comes on next, the crowd noise will be different," Seddon explained.

"Same court, same high-profile players, same high quality of tennis, but the highlights could be inadvertently treated differently."

The AI system has this year learned how to recognize ball strikes so clips can automatically be trimmed to when a point starts.

Last year, the AI highlights garnered more than 14 million video views.

Despite the buzz generated by 15-year-old qualifier Coco Gauff, Roger Federer's army of adoring fans, and fiery Nick Kyrgios's clash with Rafael Nadal, the clips from those matches did not top the overall excitement factor rankings from the first week of the championships.

Statistically, the highest-ranking point, at 0.97 out of 1.00, was China's Zhang Shuai securing victory over former world number one Caroline Wozniacki, sinking to her knees with a double fist-pump, having come back from 0-4 down in the first set.

Wimbledon is seeking to bring together as much digital information as it can on the 40,000-odd daily visitors to the complex in southwest London, in order to deliver a better fan experience.

Signing in with the official app, ground pass ticket-holders watching the big show court action on the giant screen can vote for which match they want to be shown.

"There's a value return in providing your data, to help Wimbledon understand more about user interests," said Seddon.

"It's been really interesting for them to understand what their fans on Henman Hill want to see."

Spectators have plumped for the big name players and British favorites that might have been anticipated, but have also voted for some more unexpected choices.

In the future, fans should be able to access more personalized highlights on their smartphones.

Seddon said the fan demand for immediacy in consuming sport was driving changes in the entertainment industry.

"Sport is becoming the cutting edge of the media industry, and AI is a component of the cutting edge," he explained.

"You can watch your box sets whenever you want. Sport is an in-the-moment experience.

"The challenge for the sports business is: 'who are my fans, what are they consuming?'

"And if you've got the data, how do you structure it to drive insights? That's the hard bit." — AFP


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