IBM delivers the experience at Wimbledon 2015

2015 Wimbledon - Henman Hill

The picture above is of a landmark that’s well known by fans of the Wimbledon Championships tennis tournament that is taking place in London right now.

It’s Henman Hill, the grassy mound smack in the middle of the Wimbledon venue, nicknamed thus for the now-retired British player Tim Henman. It’s packed with people – and usually more than than you see here – enjoying the live tennis on huge screens at the side of Number 1 Court to the right, just out of the view, or having a picnic in the glorious summer sunshine.

I took the picture when I was there last week, on June 30, the second day of the championships. I was there not so much to see the tennis, more to get to know about the technology behind the event that makes the tennis an enveloping experience combining the audio-visual live-action that you see and hear at Wimbledon itself; and on TV screens, computer monitors, tablets and smartphones wherever you are in the world with a network connection, along with data-driven information that adds enrichment to your experience.

I was there to find out about that last bit – the data that adds the enrichment – thanks to an invitation from Andrew Grill, Global Managing Partner in IBM’s Social Consulting business. IBM is Wimbledon’s prime technology partner, a rather dry phrase that somewhat under-states the role IBM plays largely behind the scenes in enabling that enrichment I mentioned.

And so I arrived at Gate 5 to meet Andrew, suitably attired for the occasion.

It was a blisteringly hot day on Tuesday last week, with temperatures in the afternoon well in excess of 33 degrees Celsius. The cool air-conditioned and climate-controlled interior of the IBM Bunker, the first port of call on our Wimbledon tour, was a most welcome respite from the heat and humidity outside.

Deep beneath the media centre building, the IBM Bunker is the central hub of IBM’s data services for Wimbledon. Our bunker guide was Sam Seddon, IBM’s Wimbledon Client and Programme Executive. In plain English, he’s the man responsible for managing the end-to-end delivery of the technical solutions that IBM provides to The Championships.

One end of those technical solutions is the rack of servers that funnel data to the screens of a dozen or more IBM engineers in the bunker who are the sharp end, so to speak, of analysing and extracting insights from the huge amounts of data generated from the activities across the 19 courts of the Wimbledon complex, to be used by the match commentators, the TV broadcasters and internet video feeds, on the Wimbledon.com website – built and maintained by IBM – and to the apps people install on their mobile devices.

From here, data is also provided to the media in the media centre that helps them build their commentaries and stories. There is so much data, says Sam, that IBM has people in every court who are able to help presenters and reporters construct their stories and reporting through helping them understand what the data can tell them.

2015 Wimbledon - IBM Bunker

Data analytics is a key part of what IBM does here – and an aspect I was keen to know more about – along with social media analysis and reporting. The picture above shows two of the team of engineers who pay attention to what’s happening across the web.

Note in particular the monitor with screen in purple/white at top left, displaying some metrics about website visitors the day before my visit. 2,365,398 total unique visitors to Wimbledon.com on June 29, it says. Project that out across the two weeks of these championships, and you’ll get a number probably far north of 30 million.

Sam told us that data from Wimbledon’s 19 courts comes into this room. That includes data created from tennis experts and others stationed at each court who capture datapoints like the speed of each player’s serve which they input into the system as quickly as possible. The target is to be 100% accurate, says Sam, as well as quick. Last year about 3.2 million datapoints were captured, he says.

With at least two people per court, three on the smaller ones, that’s well over 40 people who are capturing every movement of every player and entering that data into the IBM system for analysis and insight-creation, which is where the TV commentators, etc, I mentioned get the real value.

Data is the raw material: it’s the insights gleaned from analysis of that raw material that really matter.

2015 Wimbledon - IBM Bunker

Website security is paramount: the above shows part of the security team of engineers who keep an eye on the IBM cloud servers around the world to ensure “digital Wimbledon” stays up 24/7.

One of the amazing things about the IBM Bunker is that it exists only for the fortnight of the Wimbledon Championships. All that tech, all that engineering skill, all that talent, it comes together in Wimbledon each year for less than two weeks.

Yet it’s part and parcel of what IBM delivers to its primary customer, the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club which owns Wimbledon, and in turn the broadcasters and others who produce the content that you see (and interact with) on your TV, computer, mobile device, etc. Not only that, IBM also provides the players with data insights on their quality of play and more that enable them to analyse their performance in every match. That must be exceptionally useful and valuable to them.

And I heard about and saw a great deal of IBM Watson, what IBM describes as “a cognitive system that enables a new partnership between people and computers that enhances, scales and accelerates human expertise.” I think of it as a sort of a digital Mechanical Turk that answers questions when you type them in.

That’s not to make fun of it. On the contrary, this is sophisticated technology that does some simple-looking things quickly, and learns more every time you ask it a question. You can ask relatively simple tennis-related questions – eg, “when is Andy Murray’s next match?” – and get an answer pretty quickly. Sam told me that the plan is to develop Watson so that TV commentators and others can ask it anything related to what they’re talking about at that moment, to dig up myriad facts, with relevant context.

Smart stuff.

We continued our tour with a conversation with some of IBM’s social media team, which opened my eyes (ears) to the importance and measurable value of the strategic use of social media where data analysis leading to valuable insights is paramount. It also demonstrated clearly to me that if you are to deploy social media in your business, you really must have the right skilled and talented people who can measure it and interpret outcomes – the missing link I see too often in some companies large and small.

During our bunker tour – and, indeed, for much of our overall time at Wimbledon – my host Andrew Grill video-recorded just about everything. So coming soon on this blog will be some additional posts with further narrative from me plus embedded videos that will give you the detail of Sam Seddon’s commentary with some fascinating insights into the detail of data analytics and social media analysis at Wimbledon, as well as additional commentary from other IBM experts.

In fact, here’s Andrew on the roof of the media centre with that camcorder!

2015 Wimbledon - Andrew Grill

It was a tremendous afternoon and I thank Andrew and Sam especially.

And we did get to actually see something of the tennis, in case you were wondering about the ticket I had clutched in my hand when arriving at the venue (as shown in Andrew’s tweet, above). Not seated in any of the courts, you understand, more peeking over the shoulders of IBM’s tennis experts during their datapoint captures.

A bit like this bird’s eye view from the box on Court Number 1 which we got to just as the match between Rafael Nadal and Thomaz Bellucci ended. (Nadal won.)

2015 Wimbledon - Court No 1 bird's eye view

For different perspectives on IBM’s Wimbledon tech, here are some very good mainstream media reports on this year’s Wimbledon:

And look out for more content here with those videos I mentioned. Subscribe to the RSS feed so you’ll get those posts automatically.

All the pictures I took at Wimbledon are in an album on Flickr. All shot on a Samsung Galaxy S4. Pretty good camera on that device.

Talking tech on live radio

Share RadioFor the past six months, I’ve been taking part in a live radio show every other Tuesday as a guest contributor to a morning show on Share Radio UK, a start-up digital radio station broadcasting in London and online.

It’s huge fun discussing myriad topical stories related to technology with Georgie Frost, presenter of the daily Consuming Issues show, in the segment called #FutureTech.

For about 20-25 minutes, Georgie and I talk about issues and topics that matter to consumers, sharing our thinking about those issues and topics that we think will interest, help or otherwise engage those consumers who listen on DAB or online.

You can get a great sense of what our discussions are like with yesterday’s episode: topics included two of Apple’s announcements on June 8 (Apple Pay in the UK and music streaming), the end of voicemail (perhaps), drones in China that check for student exam cheats, a new app designed to help human rights activists document and store photographs and films that can be shown in court, and wearable tech for wellness in the workplace (a favourite topic of ours). Phew!

Take a listen:

So every other Tuesday morning, I’ve been going to the Share Radio UK studio in Pimlico in London to have a chat about topics that are great stimuli for engaging conversation between two people who really are interested in those topics. Definitely the right foundation for listenable content.

As a podcaster, I’ve experienced one of the major and obvious differences between recording a podcast and doing live radio – with live radio, there is no editing scalpel. Plus, a radio station typically has a production team and researchers, a luxury Shel and I don’t have with our podcasts. Not yet anyway.

In any case, I enjoy these regular every-other-Tuesday live treats on the digital airwaves. Thanks to Georgie and Annie Weston, a great producer, plus the whole team at Share Radio UK.

There’s more of Georgie and me here:

Check out Share Radio UK (try the Android or iOS app). Some great programming and presenters. And take a look at the station’s plans for expansion. Huge potential.

Is there such a thing as a British accent?

British accentThe British accent is the most attractive in the world according to a survey of 11,000 people globally, says a report in yesterday’s print edition of the Telegraph newspaper (and also in the online edition).

The Telegraph’s concise report notes that 27 percent of respondents to the survey rated British as the “sexiest” and “most dateable” accent, way ahead of the American accent in second place with 8.7 percent and Irish in third place with 8.1 percent.

The survey the Telegraph reports on was Time Out magazine’s Global Dating Survey that got a great deal of media attention this week.

What especially caught my eye, though, was the phrase “the British accent.”

What is that, I wondered?

Is it that when people think or talk about a “British accent,” what they’re actually referring to is an English accent, specifically what is defined as Received Pronunciation, and more traditionally known as “the Queen’s English”?

What we might even call “English English” as opposed to “American English”? (Certainly not “British English” as Microsoft would have it.)

Perhaps it’s the legacy of legions of actors from these shores over the past hundred years – most of them English rather than Scots, Welsh or Ulstermen (and women) – whose diction, vocabulary and context in the movies, on the stage and in television have defined the meaning of “British accent” in the minds of many people whose own language isn’t “British.”

Think of plays, movies and US TV dramas you may have seen starring legendary British thespians that include Laurence Oliver, John Gielgud, Peter O’Toole (who was Irish but with a wonderful display of RP in Lawrence of Arabia), Julie Andrews, Rex Harrison, Alec Guinness, Joanna Lumley, Noel Coward, and Patrick Stewart; and, in more modern times, names such as Emma Watson, Christian Bale, Benedict Cumberbatch, Kiera Knightley, Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Kate Winslet… just a few examples from a huge list.

Do they each speak with a “British accent”? Correctly, no they don’t. Instead, each speaks a version of English that may be particular to their origin in the part of the British Isles from which they came – and which, for most, is in England, many from the south – as well as the evolution of their speech as they get older, as they learn from new life experiences, and as they evolve their professional behaviours in acting.

Does it really matter? Not really, other than being clear in what we mean. It’s a bit like saying Tom Cruise or Timothy Oliphant each speaks with “an American accent.” I imagine linguists and language geeks – communicators, too, where this has significance in a business communication setting – will have a better idea of the nuances of language, accents and what that indicates or suggests about the speaker, and whether the receiver will understand what he or she is hearing.

For most of us, it matters little. At least we can spot the differences in the spoken word that give us insights into the speaker.

And a final thought – English today is a global language. If native speakers of English are now outnumbered by those who have learned it as a second language, then English now belongs to everyone who speaks it, no matter how they speak it nor where they speak it.

Brian Solis and Chris Saad launch Context Matters podcast

Context Matters

A new voice joined the ranks of business podcasts this week in the form of Context Matters, a new audio podcast from Brian Solis and Chris Saad.

The podcast’s focus is clear:

Context Matters is a podcast featuring discussions at the intersection of business, technology & culture.

The first episode was posted on February 4 in which the two hosts discussed Uber, Microsoft HoloLens and “why ‘Women Shouldn’t Code’ according to some people.”

It’s just over 35 minutes. Give it a try:

It’s terrific to see voices of Brian’s and Chris’s calibre start a podcast. Their collective knowledge, insights and ability to convey their opinions with credibility and subject-matter authority auger very well for Context Matters to become a must-listen resource if you are interested in that intersection of business, technology and culture.

I especially like their approach to topic development:

One of the novel things we’re going to try with this Podcast is to involve the audience in choosing topics and providing perspectives. In this section of the site we will post the topics we’re thinking about ahead of time and invite you to provide feedback.

So, speaking as a fellow podcaster, I bid welcome to Brian and Chris!

You can easily subscribe to Context Matters via iTunes and SoundCloud. Follow the show on Twitter: @ContextFM.

The shape of movies to come

The Interview

So The Interview got its public showing on Christmas Day in the United States in spite of hacks on Sony Pictures’ computer systems, angry denials by the North Koreans that they were behind the hacks, and intervention by the US President.

The political comedy film stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as journalists who secure an interview with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (played by Randall Park), and who are then recruited by the CIA and instructed to assassinate him.

In what would have been a farce if the situation hadn’t been so serious, the North Koreans accused the US government of state-sponsored terrorism and said the release of the movie would be an act of war. There were also dire threats by shady online groups during the past few weeks to kill cinema-goers if Sony Pictures did release the R-rated movie.

Well, release it they did in spite of announcing a clear intent in the previous week not to release it at all.

Much of the media reporting I’ve seen focuses on the cinema release – The Interview was showing at 320+ independent cinemas across the United States starting on Christmas Day, with box office takings to date reportedly around $2.8 million.

Yet what I found far more interesting were the other distribution methods Sony Pictures employed to make the movie more widely available. This is how Sony announced the movie’s public availability:

Fans can watch The Interview on several platforms including:

Google Play: the movie is available to buy or rent at play.google.com, and can be watched in the Play Movies & TV app on Android and iOS phones or tablets, or streamed in the living room via Chromecast, Roku or the Nexus Player.

YouTube: the movie is available at youtube.com/movies and can be watched on the web, in the YouTube app, or on select living room devices like Chromecast, Apple TV, PlayStation and Xbox.

Microsoft’s Xbox Video: the movie is available to buy or rent on the Xbox Video app on Xbox One, Xbox 360, Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 and XboxVideo.com.

SeetheInterview.com: In addition, The Interview is available at the dedicated website www.seetheinterview.com, which is sponsored by Sony Pictures and powered by Kernel and with payments through Stripe, a secure payment platform.

In addition to Google Play, YouTube, Microsoft and www.seetheinterview.com, The Interview is also being released in more than 300 United States theaters on December 25th.

It struck me straightaway that digital and online are front and center in the distribution infrastructure, with the physical (cinema) release very much the supporting act. And, releasing a movie this way – enabling people to access and view it through online rental or purchase – is the first time a major studio has done that on the same day of its cinema release.

Although the US box office has produced the lion’s share of viewing sales so far, it’s being speculated that revenues from the movie on the various digital platforms could potentially make this method likelier for movie distribution in the future, if not for the specific reasons surrounding The Interview.

And let’s not forget one thing – all of this is available only in the United States (of course there are workarounds if you’re outside the US) and it’s an R-rated movie, restricting the audience potential in cinemas at least.

It’s a big hit with content pirates, too.

In any case, could this be a clear signal on what we are likely to see in future for movie releases, whether by big studios or indie producers? I’d say it’s a sure bet that digital and online will play a much more prominent role if not the leading role in future.

Imagine – you want to watch the latest Hollywood film on your 50+-inch Ultra HD TV in the comfort and privacy of home? You have many choices of the delivery methods (see above). Then imagine services like Netflix joining the streaming distribution party.

Or, you want the IMAX or other big-screen experience with the popcorn and cokes? Head to your nearest multiplex with its digital audio-visual immersion.

And all the choices happen at once – no more staggered releases.

Traditional mainstream movie distribution and marketing focused only on the cinema and subsequent Blu-ray/DVD sales just got turned on its head.

Finally, what about the PR surrounding The Interview? There’s been commentary and opinion galore over recent months suggesting the whole thing is just a huge PR stunt, with others offering opinion to explain why it couldn’t possibly be a PR stunt.

How long?

Whether it was or not, one thing is sure – Sony Pictures has gained publicity for a movie that has been panned by critics yet looks very likely to receive widespread attention as a result of all the publicity about it (and the bigger picture about the extensive hacking of Sony Pictures that extends beyond The Interview).

Will I watch The Interview when it’s available here in the UK? Probably, just to see for myself what all the fuss is about. And especially if I can stream it to my TV or computer rather than go to the cinema.

Good PR result.

[Update Dec 29:] The Interview has managed to rake in $15 million since its online debut on Christmas Day, reports Mashable:

“Through Saturday, December 27, including all of its online distribution platforms, The Interview has been rented or purchased online more than 2 million times,” read a statement from Sony Pictures. “Total consumer spending through Saturday for The Interview online is over $15 million.”

“[A]fter only four days, The Interview already ranks as Sony Pictures #1 online film of all time,” read the statement from Sony Pictures.

Recode reports that Apple has now joined the ranks of distributors:

It took Apple a few days, but it’s joining the club: Starting [Sunday December 28], iTunes users in the U.S. and Canada can rent and purchase “The Interview,” Sony’s controversial comedy.

The movie became available at Apple’s store at 1 pm ET [Sunday].

The Interview was a huge online success, says Quartz – but for Google rather than for Sony:

Sony’s big internet video gamble seems to have paid off: The Interview, which the company offered for online rental and purchase on Christmas Eve, earned more than $15 million during its first four days on the internet. The film was rented or purchased more than 2 million times from Dec. 24-27, making it the studio’s most successful online release ever, while also grossing an additional $2.85 million from 331 independent North American theaters over the four-day holiday weekend.

[…] The film’s online success might be a qualified moral victory for Sony, but it definitely won’t be a financial one—and that’s even before calculating the significant financial fallout from the hacking scandal, which could be as much as $100 million.

Instead, the biggest winners from the weekend are the internet outlets that first streamed The Interview in North America. Google’s two sites—Google Play and YouTube Movies—were responsible for the bulk of sales, and Google also benefitted from exposing its platforms to consumers who regularly choose iTunes, or other VOD platforms that did not carry the film.

Undoubtedly further analysis will come in the following days.

Movie marketing with imagination comes to LinkedIn with Taken 3

Taken 3 LinkedIn

Promoting a new movie across the social web nowadays is an integral part of most movie marketing as the film studios and distributors try to get their movie of the moment talked up and shared online. The ultimate goal is more ticket sales and great viewing numbers at the cinema.

There’s also the subsequent revenue and brand opportunities with merchandising and streaming/sales of digital and disc versions of the film once the cinema run is over.

Buzz-building across the social web as an integral part of executing on the marketing plan can have a powerful effect over the long term.

Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are the typical mainstays of such activity. A social network that wouldn’t naturally spring to mind when you think of consumer movie marketing is LinkedIn.

Yet, why not if you have the right movie with the right messaging and marketing well suited to a business network?

That’s what 20th Century Fox is doing with Taken 3, the final episode in the action movie trilogy starring Liam Neesen that hits cinemas worldwide in January 2015.

Watch this video and see Neeson himself explaining what LinkedIn has to do with this…

What it boils down to is a contest – follow the Taken 3 LinkedIn showcase page, make sure the Skills section of your own profile highlights “your particular set of skills,” and wait and see if you’ve won the prize.

If you’ve watched previous Taken movies, you’ll know that the Neeson character sets great store on a “particular set of skills.”

The prize includes Liam Neeson in his Bryan Mills character endorsing “your particular set of skills” on LinkedIn, recording a video of him doing so. Specifically:

A custom video including Liam Neeson that includes elements of the Grand Prize winner’s LinkedIn profile information and the user’s skills as listed in their LinkedIn Skills section. This video will be shared with the user and will be posted to 20th Century Fox-owned or managed social channels, which may include: LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and/or other websites.

That video will undoubtedly form a further element of the movie marketing leading up to the film’s opening in cinemas in the US on January 8 (and here’s the spoiler – the contest is open only to US residents). And of course, raise the profile of the contest winner across the social web.

It demonstrates some great imagination to make use of a primary business social network in a way that’s bound to attract quite some attention (including people writing blog posts about it like this one).

But get cracking – the contest closes at a minute to midnight US Pacific time on December 23.

(Via Entrepreneur.com)