Wimbledon launches messenger bot as it backs AI to ‘reshape’ tennis coverage

The iconic tennis tournament will also introduce more mixed reality combining 360 and AR options as it gives a glimpse into its future.

There’s been a whole host of brands experimenting with chat bots over recent months and Wimbledon is the latest addition.

Last year, Wimbledon says it grew its mobile users threefold, with visitors and viewers now increasingly choosing to watch matches and highlights through its mobile app. The Wimbledon app, meanwhile, was downloaded an additional 1.5 million times in 2016 as 21m unique devices accessed Wimbledon highlights (up from 21.1m in 2015) and its social media videos were viewed 106m times (up from 85m in 2015).

While the dotcom to app audience split is still 93% to 7%, Wimbledon is increasingly seeing its audience move to mobile. Subsequently, it will be introducing AI assistant Fred, which is powered by IBM Watson technology, as an option within its official app for this year’s tournament.

Fred, named after legendary British tennis player Fred Perry, will work by allowing visitors on site to ask it questions such as directions and where restaurants are. And Alexandra Willis, head of communications, content & digital at the All English Lawn Tennis Club, says the plan is to expand the AI assistant over the coming years so it can answer questions such as the history of players or whether it’s going to rain with a level of intuition similar to something like Siri.

Wimbledon will also begin using AI to dictate the highlights it puts onto its app and pushes out on social media channels, with a new AI system from IBM Research designed to auto-curate highlights based on an analysis of crowd noises and player-movements to assess what are the key moments of a match.

READ MORE: How Wimbledon is balancing tradition with the rise of digital

Willis tells Marketing Week: “Sometimes people have no idea how much they can do at Wimbledon so Fred gives them the chance to really interrogate and ask questions so they make the most out of the experience.

“One of the big challenges for a sport like tennis is on the analytics and data side it is very much a push experience for tennis fans right now. So, while this year Fred is all about the visitor experience, we see the potential in terms of rolling it out to the broader Wimbledon fan over the coming years and helping reshape the viewing experience”

She says mobile is increasingly becoming the default platform for people to experience Wimbledon matches during the day, when viewers are often watching at work. Subsequently, it is placing more of an emphasis on the mobile experience over the coming years, following the rollout of Snapchat Story-esque features last year.

“The ability we have within our apps in the future is to personalise and to tailor someone’s experience at Wimbledon from the start of every day of the tournament,” she adds. “It is not like someone is going to sit there captivated throughout the day, so mobile allow us to remind them and use personalisation to make the experience richer.”

This year’s tournament will also see Wimbledon introduce more 360 video and augmented reality. For example, Wimbledon will bring its practice courts to life by combining 360 video and AR on its app. The tech will have an overlay that lists who is on the practice court after feedback suggested fans were getting annoyed as they couldn’t recognise who was training.

Willis expects mixed reality, rather than virtual reality, to make the biggest impact on sport over the coming years. She concludes: “The appetite for people wearing a VR headset for an entire match of tennis isn’t particularly high. We are waiting for the technology to evolve and catch up. But AR is very compelling as it can sit within the mobile experience and give somebody the freedom to cultivate their own experience during a match.”

Marketing Week will be hosting a conference focused around chatbots and machine-based learning on 4 July. You can book tickets for Supercharged here.

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