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.

Factory Media talks Programmatic and Native Advertising

HTC One Skatepark

Guest author Chris Talintyre is Head of Audience Development & Activation at Factory Media and talks about the power of understanding huge audiences in real-time and the opportunities it’s bringing to leading brands targeting sports enthusiasts.

As consumers increasingly share content, it’s creating a huge amount of data to analyse giving us insight on not just our readers (think boarders, skaters, surfers, BMXers) but their friends, colleagues and contacts. We can better understand and connect with them through really engaging content, such as the recent work we did with HTC One and the creation of a free world-class skate park at Selfridges.

Given the prestige of the brands we work with, the services we offer must be as cutting-edge as possible. Programmatic platforms are growing rapidly and now account for 28% of the UK display ad market due to their engagement and target abilities. This is what encouraged us to further engage fans and stay ahead of the competition. To do that, we partnered with RadiumOne, experts in programmatic advertising, and created an ‘audience insight’ tool.

Based on RadiumOne technology, it helps us to understand our 22 million strong audience, while giving us extended insight on the global reach of our connected audience – a huge 250 million people – which is pretty informative! We partnered with RadiumOne as we were impressed with the level of sophistication and in-depth insight it could give us on our audience. Our clients come from a diverse range of sectors, and want to be aligned to an active ‘outdoorsy’ audience. Bringing clients into markets they may not naturally integrate into, is a valuable offering for us.

Working with RadiumOne we’ve been able to aggregate at scale, in real-time, sharing activity to build a map of interaction (by using their sharing widget and link shortener). We can track all sharing touch points not just for interactions but more general interactions across the web, for instance, what a user shares more broadly with their friends and contacts. This is in very granular detail and can be right down to the last item bought.

This is where native and programmatic cleverly works in tandem. By packaging up content on behalf of one of our sponsors, into an ad unit (such as a competition or social feed) we can create an engaging experience for the reader. The reach of this content can go much further by also sending it to our readers’ connected audience. We do this based on the preferences made and websites visited by them, so we can serve them with different forms of advertising. It’s engagement in context.

Ultimately, this host of technologies help magnify campaigns to reach more people. Our campaigns are visual, and the audience is vast so we need to tap into every degree of interest through this repertoire of technology. We saw the market opportunity for native and programmatic – now we’re offering an increasingly attractive proposition to leading brands. It was a no brainer for us and we haven’t looked back. We’re excited about winning new business and embracing the other opportunities it will afford us.

HTC One Skatepark Trade Media Video – hires a Skateboarding video by Factory Media

Factory Media is Europe’s largest specialist sports media owner. We focus on bike, board and outdoor sports and work with some of the most recognisable brands in the world such as Nike, British Airways, Jeep and O2.

Chris TalyntireChris Talintyre is a media marketing specialist with over 15 years industry experience. With skills ranging from digital marketing, video, direct marketing, subscriptions, through to social media. Currently working within action sports, developing off and online assets to effectively monetise them and extending brand reach.

Tweets in the sky at the Ryder Cup

rydercup12Golf fans had a gripping experience with the Ryder Cup competition in Chicago this past weekend, with a nail-biting finale that saw the Europeans pip the Americans to the post at the last minute to win the tournament.

SiliconRepublic reports on an imaginative stunt by Irish bookmaker Paddy Power who broadcast fans’ tweets over the heads of golfers and fans via a fleet of planes flown by stunt pilots in a dramatic display of support for Team Europe:

[…] creating giant tweets in the sky, visible from more than 32 kilometres (20 miles), designed to rival any ground-level heckles.

Using the hashtag #goeurope, a selection of tweets were ‘sky written’ by stunt pilots flying at 3,048 metres (10,000 feet) in the world’s first Twitter campaign of its kind. Some 60 tweets were posted across the Illinois skies throughout the weekend’s golfing action.

Each individual character was a staggering 60 metres (200 feet) taller than the newly installed Shard skyscraper in London.

Paddy Power explains it all in this video which tells the overall story and shows the action. (If you don’t see the video embedded below, watch it at YouTube.)

Imaginative, bold and audacious!

[Later:] Julio Romo blogged about this story yesterday with additional video and noting who the PR firm behind it was: Taylor Herring in London, who describe Skyjacking The Ryder Cup.

Salute the Olympic spirit

olympicphoenix

So the London 2012 Olympic Games have come to an end.

A spectacular closing ceremony last night – with music, song, dance, awe-inspiring stadium lighting and fireworks that made up the greatest show on earth – brought the past two weeks of competition to an emotional climax.

The sight of the Olympic spirit rising as a phoenix from the dying flame is an excellent metaphor to apply to the 2012 Olympics legacy in the coming weeks and months, not only in terms of the big picture politicians and others are painting about investing in school sports throughout the UK (“empowering a new generation”) and helping British businesses “reap the rewards”,  but also for Team GB and the launch platform their success has built in these games.

All the doubt, worry and criticisms before London 2012 about our ability to host these games quietly vanished within days of the start, replaced instead with powerful and growing feelings and displays of national pride as we witnessed thousands of athletes from around the world doing amazing things in open competition, right here in our capital city and other places of competition around the UK.

Indeed, worldwide worry disappeared.

And we were suddenly proud to be British, uplifted especially by the achievements of our Team GB, collectively and individually – and that includes the 70,000 volunteers – with their selfless hard work, team spirit and determination to succeed, maybe even win a medal or two.

If government can enable the framework – that’s their prime job – then Team GB can be an influential player to kick-start the legacy.

As they say so compellingly, don’t stop me now.

Olympic benefits for corporate reputations

visa-infographic-london2012-top

The past two weeks of the London 2012 Olympic Games have certainly been a time of drama, high emotion, success and failure, and a general lifting of the spirits to witness such displays of intense effort and much achievement by athletes from over 100 countries.

The positive focus on this wonderful sporting event has just about excluded any other news from anyone’s attention as our TV screens, newspapers and favourite social networks have given us so much to consume, share and interact with over all that’s good about humanity and society.

It’s as if we know reality will resume this coming Monday, so let’s make the most of it!

You could apply similar thinking about a corporation or a brand from being associated with such goodness, where such a groundswell of positive feeling and perception rubs off on that corporation or brand.

As marketing intelligence company Warc reports, that’s exactly what’s happening with regard to Visa, BP and Acer – three of the main sponsors of the 2012 Olympic Games – which have recorded the greatest uptick in buzz among US consumers, citing new figures from the YouGov research firm.

[…] Visa, the financial services provider, registered the largest improvement on this metric, as its index score rose from 8.2 points before the competition to 22.7 points once it began on July 27.

Second place in the YouGov rankings went to BP, the oil firm, which has been tackling negative perceptions ever since the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010. Its total climbed from –5.9 points to 2.6 points, an 8.5-point lift.

Acer, the IT group, took third, improving by 5.1 points to 8.9 points overall.

Warc’s report adds that Coca-Cola, the soft drinks maker, accrued an additional 3.5 points, taking it to 24 points in all. McDonald’s, the fast food network, was also up by 2.3 points to 16.1 points.

BP’s rise is especially impressive, given the still-ongoing reputational challenges the energy giant faces following the consequences of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

I think a key element in the success of BP and the others Warc mentions is how such corporate sponsors have been presenting their corporate selves and brands’ association  with the Olympics in TV and other advertising.

Take Visa’s example of explaining the economic value they say will result for London and the UK in general, following the games, as shown in this infographic (a portion of which you see at the top of this page).

In TV advertising, BP’s a good example of how a public perception of selflessness is positive, such as in this corporate spot shown on US television a few months ago focusing on athletes and their potential to win, with next to nothing said about BP’s business.

(If you don’t see the video embedded here, watch it on YouTube.)

BP has been showing similar-focused ads on TV in the UK.

YouGov’s concise report makes good reading as it adds commentary to the numbers including the other brands covered in the latest research – see the chart here (and check the three sponsors showing less buzz in the US than before).

olympicsponsorbuzz

Public opinion is a fickle thing, to be sure, but Visa, BP, Acer and others show that public relations benefits on reputation can result if you get it right. I wonder what such research would show for buzz about all these sponsors in the UK.

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