Above and beyond Rafael Nadal being knocked out on the first day of the tournament, there have been a brace of interesting stories surrounding the Wimbledon Tennis Championships this year, many of them technology related and encompassing everything from Google Glass to 4K tests
To be honest there often are. Belying a somewhat staid image, Wimbledon has a strong heritage of broadcast innovation that saw the Championships stage the UK’s first colour television broadcast, not to mention taking recent roles at the forefront of HD, stereo 3D (though we don’t mention that in polite company anymore) super slo-mo and even rail-cam deployment. And with its dedicated iPhone app hitting its fourth birthday this year it also now has one of the oldest and most fully featured mobile presences tied to a major event in any sport.
Quite a few of these recent advances have been down to its technological tie in with major tournament sponsor Sony, who as a result gets to use the two weeks camped in south west London as a bit of a test bed for its latest innovations (interestingly, Panasonic has the same sort of deal with Roland Garros and the French Open tennis that takes place a month before). For 2013, of course, that means a 4k test in conjunction with the BBC and tournament organisers the All England Lawn Tennis Club.
Most of the Sony’s kit – along with the specially built 4k OB truck operated by Telegenic – is at the really big test at the Confederations Cup in Brazil. But it does have a F55 and a NEX-FS700 shooting the action and relaying the images via a cut-down OB operation to an ‘Experience Centre’ onsite showing off its newly launched 4k Bravias. It also debuted a neat PR gimmick which you will probably see a lot more of this summer, placing tiny adverts – microtisements is the official term – on the shoelaces and fingernails of British tennis player Anne Keothavong in order to show off just how high super-high resolution can go.
She went out in the first round.
Big Data goes OTT
Elsewhere, the AELTC has ported its app to the iPad for the first time, and is peppering its feed with exclusive content such as ‘live timelapse’ images (which admittedly sounds like a bit of a contradiction in terms) and other material from its impressive Live @ Wimbledon TV service which features highlights, interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and classic matches when it (inevitably) rains. It is also porting that in turn to its own YouTube channel where one can only imagine the discussion about it streaming live games when broadcasters have paid through the nose for the rights to do the same thing must have been interesting.
Indeed, some industry commentators have been fairly agog over this, saying it was one of the most significant things to happen to broadcast OTT (Over The Top) content they have yet seen. Watch, as they say, this space.
Tennis nerds can also attempt to reach Nirvana via the new Wimbledon Insights website where a data partnership with IBM takes all the data from the likes of the Hawk Eye system that captures speed and ball trajectory for broadcasters and turns it into a bewildering array of stats. If you thought cricket and baseball had the monopoly on sport stats geekiness, you really need to delve into this a bit more. It is all a bit frightening
But Big Data is a term you’re going to hear a lot about in relation to broadcast over the next few months as people try to second guess exavtly what viewers want to watch, and IBM basically is crunching through the numbers here to try and sell its data analytic services to other companies; the premise being is that if it can analyse and show how Andy Murray can win the majority of his points on the backhand, it can help you flog more ice creams, or similar. New on this front this year is social media analytics, which measures volume and the geographic origin of tweets and shows whether conversations about each player are predominantly positive or negative. This is all tracked in realtime and linked to match play, illustrating how fans feel about the course of events on court.
All this vaguely spooky Big Brother stuff finally brings us to Google Glass, and somewhat larger than life American player Bethanie Mattek-Sands who is wearing a pair of them at the Tournament. Judging by her Twitter feed this story is generating more column inches than useful insight, but she does say that watching back video taken with them while she practices is providing a useful viewpoint for her coach.
Expect them to be banned by all sporting organisations fairly quickly.