USTA Opens New Windows for Live Online Streaming

It is a season of new beginnings for the USTA’s advanced-media staff. Prior to the kickoff of the 2010 US Open, Senior Director Phil Green and his crew were mercifully moved from their aging makeshift offices in the bowels of Louis Armstrong Stadium to a brand-new facility inside the Indoor Tennis Center at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. However, the change of scenery is not the only upgrade to the US Open’s digital platform.

“This year, for the first time, we’re offering live streaming for all television windows,” says Green. “Last year, we did only the cable windows [ESPN and Tennis Channel]. With the addition of all the CBS Sports windows, we’re bringing the entire US Open to our fans from first ball to last ball on all of the five show courts.”

More Live Streaming Than Ever
This year, every match played on the five television courts (Arthur Ashe Stadium, Louis Armstrong Stadium, Grandstand, Court 11, and Court 13), is being streamed live on USOpen.org, including the men’s and women’s finals. This US Open Live platform is streaming up to five matches simultaneously and, by the close of Sunday’s men’s singles final, will have streamed more than 200 live matches domestically.

“The average person does not have a TV in their office, so if they want to watch the Open, they’re going to have to watch it online,” says Green. “That’s why we are not worried about cannibalization [of TV viewers]. They’re going to become engaged by watching online in the office, and then they’re going to go home and want to watch it on TV that night and that weekend.”

The Flash-based US Open Live video player was built by IBM and is largely similar to the 2009 player but with a few major upgrades. In addition to in-depth live stats, fan-interaction widgets, and picture-in-picture capabilities, the player now boasts full DVR functionality and adaptive-bitrate technology with streams as high as 2.2 Mbps.

US Open Live takes the USOptimum world feed provided to broadcasters around the world and repurposes it for the domestic live-streaming service. IBM and USTA then distribute these streams over Akamai’s content-distribution network. USTA is also using Akamai HD Media Analytics to monitor these streams.

Streaming to the iPad
US Open Live will also be available on the iPad, along with on-demand highlights and other video content. In addition, IBM has made a concerted effort to make the redesigned USOpen.org more iPad-friendly.

“Obviously, the fundamental issue was converting from Flash to HTML5,” says John J. Kent, the IBM program manager involved with the project. “It was additional work, but it wasn’t overcomplicated to do. All the core segments of the site were converted. The iPad video player is not quite as sophisticated as what we have on the Website, but there’s hardly any functionality that you don’t have on the iPad.”

Seeing Through Walls With Your iPhone
IBM has introduced an iPhone application for US Open attendees this year, dubbed Around Me. The augmented-reality app allows attendees at the Tennis Center to point their iPhone camera in any direction to see live scores on each court or find the nearest food stands, restrooms, public transportation, and other info about the grounds.

“It uses the camera and the GPS on the iPhone to literally let you see through walls,” says Green. “You hold up your iPhone, and you just point. If you’re looking at Court 5, it will show you the scores in Court 5. If you point it at Ashe, it will show you the score in Ashe. Then, if you tap your screen, it will give you even more in-depth stats and info.”

USOpen PointStream
IBM has also developed a real-time data-visualization tool on USOpen.org that offers fans in-depth stats and changes in momentum. Aces, serve speed, winners, and all other key data of a match is visualized in real time, giving online fans a better sense of a match in progress. The Momentum Meter shows which player has a current statistical edge.

“It’s all about doing a better job of telling the story of the match,” says Green. “[PointStream] takes all that raw statistical data and presents it to the user in a visual form. You can follow along live and see that a given rally was 27 shots or gauge the momentum of a match. It’s much deeper than just the score of the match.”

Exclusive Video Content
The USOpen.org site itself has been upgraded as well, with greater integration of social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter as well as increased exclusive video content on the US Open All-Access video hub and a daily analysis program shot on-site at the Tennis Center.

Drive to the Championship is a daily analysis program produced exclusively for USOpen.org. The program is taped each day at the Mercedes-Benz booth in the East Plaza of the Tennis Center and features former player Todd Martin analyzing down each day’s action and looking ahead.

“The show is strictly online,” says Green. “We shoot it right here on the grounds so the fans can come and watch. They really get into it, and it’s been great thus far.”

New Digs for the Digital Staff

The new offices offer a much needed upgrade for the USOpen.org crew, which includes dozens of USTA staffers, freelancers, and IBM specialists.

“The new space is fantastic,” Green says. “In our old space, we would have beer dripping on us, flooding, all kinds of stuff. We don’t have to worry about that now. You can literally have the USTA staff and freelancers sitting right next to the IBM staff. So, if the lead content editor needs something to be done by the IBM project manager, he just leans over and asks. The ability to work together closely in a brighter environment makes this job a lot easier.”

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