IBM Is Curating Content Powered by Watson’s Artificial Intelligence for the U.S. Open

Company debuts Watson Media at this year's tournament

IBM Watson is powering content at the U.S. Open this week and next.
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Watson is quickly becoming a fan of tennis.

Already a digital savant of music, architecture and film, IBM’s cloud-based artificial intelligence is adding sports to its line of capabilities, starting with the U.S. Open in New York.

During the annual tennis tournament in Queens this week and next, IBM has set up a temporary control center in the bowels of Arthur Ashe Stadium, where it’s using Watson to analyze video and audio in real time to understand the game and the fans while cutting content in real time that’s then served up on the United States Tennis Association’s platforms. It’s also a way for IBM to officially debut Watson Media.

According to IBM, Watson uses its cognitive capabilities to recognize important match moments based on the reaction of the crowd and players, along with a SlamTracker that keeps up with scores, stats and other insights during every match. For this, the IBM Cloud leverages a dozen years of Slam Data from the tournament, using machine learning to understand players’ styles and also for knowing about the pace and other aspects of play.

Watson is also at the center of a massive data analysis during the tournament. According to Elizabeth O’Brien, IBM program director of sports and entertainment partnerships, the idea was to take Watson’s capabilities to improve the fan experience while also creating a way for the tournament to earn revenue.

“If you’re sitting there, there are 17 courts of play happening,” she said. “Every point on each one of those courts is a potential highlight. So if you’re a broadcaster and you have to put up a highlight, you’re looking at thousands of potential highlights, so Watson can actually take them and say, ‘You know, these are the potential highlights.’”

While it’s officially debuting this week, Watson Media has been tested at a few other high-profile sports events, specifically Wimbledon and the Masters golf tournament.

Within the app is also what IBM is calling its Cognitive Concierge, an AI-powered chatbot that uses natural language processing to help answer questions about food, drinks or other issues someone might have during a match. While Watson answered 56,000 questions last year, so far this year, it’s answered 4,000 the day before the tournament and 8,000 on the first day. The most common questions have been about where a player is playing, where to get tickets and what parts of the venue tickets give attendees access to.

“We’re watching the questions that are being asked every day and learning what people want to know and increasing the corpus of knowledge and the questions we can answer,” O’Brien said.

Dianna McDougall

IBM and the U.S. Open are also using Watson to generate revenue. That’s partly through building engagement with tennis fans around the world via the U.S. Open’s app, which has become a place for advertisements and custom or sponsored content. Meanwhile, other brands are also sponsoring highlights on the U.S. Open’s platforms even without Watson. For example, Heineken is using it to bring highlights, as are Mercedes-Benz and Chase. (American Express is also sponsoring content through the Cognitive Concierge.)

Content created during the tournament had already been interacted with more than 69 million times, according to a massive screen in IBM’s control room on Tuesday night. Around 48 million interactions had come from mobile devices, while another 21 million had come from desktop. London was the most popular city source for visitors, accounting for 39 percent, followed by Montreal (31 percent), San Jose (26 percent) and Tokyo (4 percent). By country, the U.S. was the most popular, followed by the U.K., Canada, Germany, Italy and Australia.

“We’re a huge event—we have 700,000 fans that come through here over the course of two weeks,” said Lew Sherr, the USTA’s chief revenue officer. “That’s a Knicks season. That’s a Jets season. It’s an NHL, NBA season packed into two weeks, but our universe is hundreds of millions.”