Wimbledon to use IBM tech to power AI commentary for online highlights

"This year, we're introducing new features that use AI to help fans gain more insight and access commentary through our match highlights videos."
Amal Jos Chacko
Representational image.jpg
Representational image.

Dmytro Aksonov/iStock 

Wimbledon, one of the most prestigious tennis tournaments in the world, is set to revolutionize its coverage this year by introducing artificial intelligence-powered commentary and analysis, according to a press release. The All England Club has partnered with tech giant IBM to offer fans a unique immersive experience with AI-generated audio commentary and captions in online highlights videos.

IBM, pioneers of AI-curated video highlights which earned the IBM Consulting team an Emmy Award, trained its bleeding-edge Watson AI platform in tennis nomenclature. This venture builds upon the All England Club’s existing utilization of IBM's AI technology, which includes features like the player power index analyzing player performance.

Draw Analysis from this, now.

One of the highlights of this AI-powered coverage is the analysis of singles draws. IBM’s AI Draw Analysis examines draws upon release and provides insights into a player's potential path to the final, uncovering anomalies and potential surprises that may not be apparent when glancing at the players' rankings. 

This feature adds an exciting new dimension to the tournament, giving enthusiasts a deeper understanding of the competitive landscape and the level of advantage or disadvantage for each player, and the projected difficulty for each match.

Generated commentary, but just like the real deal.

Material from nearly 130 million commentary documents was sourced, filtered, and was then used to train a large language model. This model was then fine-tuned, adding unique Wimbledon nomenclature, such as “gentlemen’s draw” rather than “men’s draw.” The final model boasts an impressive 3 billion parameters, ensuring accurate and engaging commentary for fans.

IBM told The Guardian that it viewed this venture as a significant step towards generating AI commentary for full matches. The European Broadcasting Union recently announced that commentator Hannah England would lend her voice to provide AI-generated commentary for the European Athletics Championships, showcasing the growing influence of AI in sports coverage.

“IBM is bringing new layers of insight and engagement to the 2023 Championships through the use of innovating new tools, powered by foundation models and generative AI from watsonx,” said Jonathan Adashek, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications for IBM. “The AI and data platform that IBM is using to create unique fan experiences for Wimbledon is the same technology that we’re using to drive business transformation with clients across all sectors and industries.”

IBM's solution analyzes gestures such as fist pumps, crowd noise, and game analytics to identify highlight-worthy moments in tennis matches. These moments are then spun into highlight reels, to which AI-generated commentary and closed captions are added for fans to enjoy on the Wimbledon app and website.

While Wimbledon, a spectacle known to preserve its pristine tradition, looks to embrace artificial intelligence this year around, few view this as a threat to human commentators. 

“You can’t replace John McEnroe doing commentary, that human element always needs to be there. It’s very much supplementing and complementing,” Kevin Farrar, IBM Sports Partnerships Leader, told The Telegraph. “For Wimbledon, it’s about providing commentary in the future on matches that don’t currently have human commentary- like the seniors, juniors, wheelchair [events],” he added.

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