Highlight Machine Taps IBM AI For Fox Sports World Cup Coverage

LOS ANGELES — World Cup soccer fans have a new way this year to get involved with the sport by generating on-the-fly custom highlight reels combining their favorite players, types of plays and other characteristics thanks to Fox Sports and IBM Watson Media.

“We think the Highlight Machine Presented by Adidas is really cool and really fun,” says David Feldstein, VP product management at Fox Sports.

The FIFA World Cup Highlight Machine, available online and as a feature of the new Fox Sports app for iOS and Android, is Fox Sports’ first public use of AI and machine learning to more deeply engage fans with a sporting event.

“It’s been a baby we have been carrying for a while now,” says Feldstein. “It’s exciting now to pass around the cigars.”

[Read: Fox, Telemundo Offer A Clearer View Of FIFA World Cup Russia]

The World Cup is “just the beginning” for the highlight tool, he says, adding that Fox Sports is interested in pursuing other similar applications.

Using the Highlight Machine is straightforward. Fans can create highlight reels drawing from more than 300 archived matches played between 1958 and 2014. When the 2018 edition of the tournament begins, they will be able to create highlight reels from just-completed games about 10 minutes after their completion.

To drive a highlight search, fans can select from year, team, player, matches and play types, such a goals, shots on goal, saves, shots and red cards. Once created, highlight reels can be shared with friends and family via Facebook, Twitter, text and email. The 50 most popular fan reels will appear in a carousel on the Highlight Machine page.

IBM Watson Media is well-suited for the Highlight Machine application, says David Mowrey, product and business development, IBM Watson Media & Cloud Video.

“For the last World Cup, there were in the order of 98,000 hours of video produced,” he says. “Most of the scenarios we talk about [for Watson Media] are mainly for customers with massive amounts of video.”

For the Highlight Machine application, IBM Watson Video Enrichment, a programmatic metadata tool, analyzes the massive amount of historical and 2018 match footage, interviews, press conferences and other related video to create metadata that identifies what is happening in a scene at any given moment along with an associated timestamp.

“That provides a more comprehensive set of metadata that Fox Sports can expose to their consumers in very personalized ways,” says Mowrey. “It also helps editors and commentators.”

In essence, Watson Video Enrichment acts as an automatic metadata generator that is trained to use clues, such as facial characteristics, the presence of a red card, crowd noise, what’s being said by announcers and other characteristics, to create metadata that makes the massive amount of soccer video searchable.

For the live games, IBM will take a live feed of a match, transcode it to its house format, run its Watson Media Enrichment algorithms and supply the metadata results with timestamps tied to clips to Fox Sports for use with the Highlight Machine.

When a fan specifies search characteristics, the Highlight Machine performs the desired search of the metadata within seconds and retrieves the desired footage tied to the metadata from the cloud to build a custom reel.

Fox Sports has set up a three-tiered caching architecture for user queries, says Feldstein. “We preseeded the cache with what we thought the most common query types were,” he says. Those queries were made, and the results stored in cache.

“Second are the complicated queries my team and I put together of the best of FIFA for the carousel,” he adds. “Then we cached all of those results and actually built a bot that is capturing user queries as they are made.”

Fox Sports then “flushes the cache” and uses the bots to reseed the cache with everything the system has learned,” says Feldstein.

The idea behind the approach is that the more queries the Highlight Machine receives, the more queries that are cached; and the more queries that are cached, the faster highlight reels can be served, he added.

Fan Top 50 reels available on the Highlight Machine carousel will find their way into broadcasts, says Feldstein, adding that Fox Sports talent will likely demo and play with the Highlight Machine during their telecasts of matches.

The Highlight Machine isn’t the only step Fox Sports is taking to entertain fans with features other than its core broadcast coverage. Once again, the sports broadcaster has partnered with LiveLike to provide a social VR experience, including a custom suite and three immersive multi-angle VR feeds of each game. It is also offering “90 in 90” match highlights, match replays and on-demand episodes of World Cup shows via Fox.com and Fox Now as well as instant alerts of goal highlights, plays and recaps. But it seems that the Highlight Machine is the new feature that most excites Feldstein.

“If we are right and the Highlight Machine is as fun to use as we think it is, that’s going to drive more people to it so they can enjoy it, and that will make us very happy,” says Feldstein.

Fox broadcast coverage of the FIFA World Cup begins June 14 at 11 a.m. ET with the Russia-Saudi Arabia match.

The Highlight Machine is available on the Fox Sports website.

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Phil Kurz

Phil Kurz is a contributing editor to TV Tech. He has written about TV and video technology for more than 30 years and served as editor of three leading industry magazines. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Journalism.