USTA Ups Multiplatform Ante for US Open
The USTA’s streaming and multiplatform efforts have come a long way since it began streaming live matches with its US Open Live service four years ago. Having battled the myth that live streaming cannibalizes TV audiences, USOpen.org now streams every single match of the US Open live from first ball to last on computers and the iPad. In addition, all day sessions are streamed on iPhone and Android handheld devices during Labor Day and Finals Weekends.
This all-in approach produced solid returns last year, when USOpen.org generated more than 51 million visits during the 2011 tournament and saw mobile traffic double and live-streaming consumption jump 12% from 2010. With multiplatform consumption of live sports at an all-time high, the USTA believes 2012 could yield even bigger numbers.
“This year, our goal is to provide the most comprehensive coverage of our event for our fans, regardless of where they are or what platform they are on,” says Phil Green, senior director, Advanced Media, USTA. “Fans crave content, and they crave the right content on the right device. With that in mind, we focus heavily on UI [user interface] and optimized searching that allows fans to find exactly what they want as fast as possible.”
Qualifying Added to the Equation
By the time the tournament concludes on Sunday (or Monday if the Tennis Center is beset by rain for the fifth straight year), USOpen.org will have streamed more than 200 live US Open matches from the six TV courts — Arthur Ashe Stadium, Louis Armstrong Stadium, the Grandstand, and Courts 11, 13, and 17 — including all semis and finals in men’s and women’s singles.
That is in addition to live streaming of last month’s US Open qualifying for the first time ever. The coverage, which was also televised on CBS Sports Network for the first time, totaled 24 hours over four days (Aug. 21-24).
“That really bumped up our [workflow],” says Green. “Everyone else was talking about Monday being opening day, but we had already been live with streaming, our apps, and scoring for almost a week before that. It made for a very different opening day here.”
IBM Tech Returns to the Blue Court
IBM is back once again as the USTA’s official technology partner at the Open, building the primary video player and iPad, iPhone, and Android apps; providing the backend infrastructure for USOpen.org; and delivering several analytical enhancements for the site and apps.
Returning features to the IBM-built video player, which is capable of streams up to 3.56 Mbps, include picture-in-picture, DVR functionality, social-media integration, in-depth analytics and statistics, and a live scoreboard.
In addition, IBM has once again served up its SlamTracker technology (previously referred to as PointStream), a predictive analytics and visualization platform that leverages historical and real-time match data. SlamTracker’s “Momentum” feature maps player momentum throughout a match in real time and visualizes key turning points, such as aces and winning shots. In addition, SlamTracker’s “Keys to the Match” feature analyzes seven years of historical Grand Slam data to determine the three most important goals for each player during a match.
IBM is also once again providing the elastic infrastructure to build out USOpen.org during the tournament and then scale back to support regular operations afterward. IBM SmartCloud — powered by IBM servers and storage in three geographically dispersed locations — enables this rapid creation and allocation of resources while offering transparent and real-time access by a multitude of devices.
USTA, IBM Serve Up Ace With iPad App
New this year, the iPad app, developed in conjunction with IBM, provides access to all USOpen.org live match streams (via iPad’s Safari browser), on-demand highlights and interviews, live scores, in-depth stats and analytics, draws and schedules, news and photos, and a wealth of social-media functionality. Although USOpen.org was optimized for iPad’s Safari last year, the 2012 tournament marks the debut of a full iPad app.
“The app is very focused on using the iPad as a second screen,” says Green. “It is specifically designed for the iPad, so we are not repurposing the Website or repurposing the mobile app.”
Getting Social at the Open
USTA and IBM focused much of their development efforts this year on creating social-media functionality across all platforms. The iPad’s Media Chat feature includes a primary Twitter feed that aggregates relevant US Open Tweets, as well as court-specific feeds for all six show courts aggregating match-related Tweets. The aggregation technology is provided by Mass Relevance.
In addition, USTA has five people delivering unique social-media content to Facebook, Twitter, foursquare, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and YouTube.
“As you see with a lot of major events, social is a big focus for us,” says Green. “We did something very cool last week with Google Hangout, where [Canadian singles player] Milos Raonic came on and took questions — tennis- and not-tennis-related — from a group of prescreened fans. It was all live on Google Hangout and very cool. We hope to do more of that.”
More Content of All Kinds
USOpen.org and the apps also feature more original on-demand content than ever before. In addition to match highlights, press conferences, and classic matches, users can access the analytics-powered “Drive to the Championship presented by Mercedes-Benz,” celebrity sightings on “Stars at the Open presented by Heineken,” and behind-the-scenes access with “Beyond the Baseline presented by Xerox.”
“The biggest areas of growth for us in terms of staff and philosophy have been in our on-demand video and social-media departments,” says Green. “We continue to push those elements.”
A Truly Connected Venue
The USTA also continues to enhance on-site connectivity for fans at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center, allowing them to fully access these apps and sites on iPads and mobile devices. For the past three years, the USTA has offered free WiFi as well as additional COWs (cell on wheels) to assist cellular connectivity for on-site fans.
“Every year, we look at the stats and feedback and adjust accordingly,” says Green. “We work with our IT department, and they work with a third-party vendor. For example, last year, we received reports that WiFi was not as good in Grandstand as it was elsewhere, so they put an extra hub to solve that. This year, our IT department also worked to get WiFi into all of our suites.”