Alright Mike…I see you trying to steal my blog topic for the week…but, after my golf related blog post a couple weeks ago, it is only fitting that I talk about golf’s biggest and most innovative tournament that is only a couple short weeks away: The Masters. Personally, I have never seen golf featured in the news as much as it has been recently. With Phil Mickelson’s recent win (giving hope to the older fans), Tiger’s comeback (increasing viewership by 3x), and Rory McIlroy finally winning his first tournament after 539 days has created a lot of talk for the sport…a lot more than usual. It is no question that the green jacket is an icon to the sport, but the evolution of the technology that is used for this one event stays behind the scenes. IBM, being one of the most important Global Sponsors for the tournament, has implemented digital advancements to make viewership for this major event as realistic as possible, making viewers feel as if they are truly standing on Amen Corner.
IBM brings a modern twist to the 83 year old major tournament. The Masters itself has always been the leading tournament when it came to the use of technology for within golf. A few milestones are shown in this picture, summarizing the lengthy history. The Masters basically introduced many “firsts” to the game of golf. To this day, The Masters has gone above and beyond to implement the latest technology to enhance the experience. In 2016, The Masters was the first sporting event to broadcast in 4K Ultra HD…but that’s old news. I honestly did not know that the Masters was this involved with this much technology until I researched to write this blog post and I was not disappointed.
On my last blog, I touched on the reality of the sport. It’s slow and tedious, which makes watching golf on TV boring. Golf differs as a sport since it’s not played on a set measured court or stadium, rather it’s played on miles of different holes. That means, there could be over 100 players on the course at the same time (depending on the tournament). This also means at The Masters, cameras need to be able to cover every inch of all 18 holes in case something amazing happens. After one PGA tournament, there would be over 1000 hours of video footage that covers 90-100 golfers, playing 18 holes for 4 days with video coverage from every tee, and multiple camera angles throughout each hole. The difference with The Masters is that the average golf fan actually cares about live feedback of their favorite players.
IBM implemented a solution to this problem creating AI that can decipher video content to feature the camera or hole that has the biggest “excitement level.” This AI technology is especially helpful when it comes to creating recap videos at the end of the day or tournament. In real time, this system is taught to analyze and identify the “excitement level” on these factors:
- Crowd cheering
- Action recognition, such as high fives or fist pumps
- Commentator excitement (tone of voice)
- Commentary (exciting words or expressions obtained from the Watson Speech to Text API)
- Shot-boundary detection
- TV graphics (such as lower third banners)
- Optical character recognition (the ability to extract text from images to determine which player is in which shot)
After the AI detects such segments that meet a certain “excitement level,” the footage is extracted and set up for review. This process may seem long and complicated, but it actually saves the producer time and money. On top of being able to identify top moments during the Masters, this technology also can automatically gather data on any player, which then enables searches such as “show me all highlights of player X during the tournament.” Thanks to IBM’s iX team, watching the best moments of 90 golfers has never been easier.
In 2016 for $99, you could have bought yourself a NextVR headset to watch the Masters like you were actually there. Virtual reality was implemented as a new way to follow the Masters last year, but only for holes 6 and 16 (the most well known holes at Augusta National). It is unclear whether or not the 2018 Masters will implement this type of streaming again or if they will make it available for more viewers, but NextVR’s virtual reality differs from Intel’s March Madness virtual reality. With NextVR’s virtual reality, the user is able to actually take steps and feel like they are walking the greens of Augusta National. Intel’s March Madness virtual reality is stationary (although the user is able to choose which camera angle he/she prefers). Not saying the Masters is doing it better…but this type of technology could potentially allow people to follow one group for an entire round. The future for virtual reality, especially for golf, could change major tournaments for the better to allow golf geeks, geek out that much more.
If you think virtual reality is a step up, then the Watson Experience will blow your mind. With the use of some pretty incredible coding skills, IBM created a room dedicated just to create a “cognitive experience.” Built in a 12’ x 20’ room, with a 7-foot, 270-degree high-definition video, anyone that steps into this room with be immersed with everything that has to do with the Masters. Watson knows when someone walks in the room and listens to conversation had within the room, which then provides information that relates to the conversation to the user.
There are four application program interfaces that make up Watson: Watson speech to text, Watson conversation, Watson text to speech, and Watson visual recognition. IBM states that the “application of this technology are nearly limitless.” With the uniqueness of the Masters, IBM wanted to test out this technology, which might eventually be used to “participate in a board-level discussion of an acquisition or merger, using Tradeoff Analytics to weigh the pros and cons of the transaction. Or offer the latest research to doctors in the process of diagnosing a patient’s symptoms. Or even analyze statistics and cueing up film during halftime of an NFL game.”…like they said, this technology is limitless. I tried my best to sum up what the Watson Experience actually is, but reading about it honestly confused me just as much as I struggled to write this section of my post. Watch this video to fully understand this room because I certainly did not do it justice.
John Kent, Program Manager of Worldwide Sponsorship Marketing for IBM, “wanted to create a delightful experience that showcased the beauty and tradition of The Masters.” Kent did just that with the use of multiple data centers and IBM’s cloud platform. The Masters’ website is already impressive due to the eight channels that are always live streaming with content from the tournament shown with a clear picture and little to no lag. The clear HD picture is possible from the help of the data centers IBM utilizes, allowing them to control traffic for the live streaming on the website. Their cloud allows IBM to “scale up or scale down” as necessary if traffic becomes heavy or slow. Now looking back at all the times I have streamed the Masters during class, I just noticed that I have never had the video coverage lag. Compared to streaming other sports, even regular season NHL games, the Masters is impressively clear…if you do not believe me try streaming the Masters and let me know what you think.
On top of everything IBM has done for the Masters, probably one of the coolest features they implemented is the track feature. Utilizing lazers set up on every tee, fairway, and green any watcher can follow how each player is playing the holes. Any experienced golfer knows that there are a million ways to play a hole. Say if Jordan Spieth chokes again during the fourth round of the Masters and makes another quadruple-bogey (making a 7 on a par 3) like he did in 2016, then I’m going to want to know what happened exactly.
Overall, IBM basically is the frontrunner for modernizing golf. Although all this technology is basically only used during the Masters, the potential for golf is more visible than ever before. Golf may not be your favorite sport, but you have to admit, this technology speeds up the slow sport and allows for some spark of excitement. I realize some people might not be interested, but The Masters is a different experience and with Tiger back this year I can promise that news of this event will be flooding your news feed in a couple weeks.