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How AI Is Already Changing the Game-Viewing Experience

Today’s guest columnist is Steve Bornstein, president, North America, Genius Sports.

I am a futurist. It’s how I view life, how I view our business, and it’s how I think we should all be. Staying curious and unafraid to push the envelope as we delve deeper into what’s new and exciting and what’s on the horizon that can make the sports we love to watch, play and engage with even more interesting. If you hesitate, if you want to stick with the status quo, you are going to get left in the haze of the rearview mirror. I believe we have to keep pushing forward, because that windshield on the future is much larger than the little one looking back.

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It’s why last year at this time when we were asked what is ahead, we at Genius were bullish on artificial intelligence as our all-in engagement point. We didn’t fret that machine learning was going to cause chaos; we viewed AI as the tool to unlock engagement, activity and advancement in every aspect of our business. Those building the foundational layers of next-generation technology, like our team at Genius Sports, must stay true to a tactical plan for creating the ultimate entertainment product.

Here we are a year later, heading into Super Bowl, and I am excited to say that we think the future is getting closer.

From highly customized video and data being used by coaches and analysts, to the use of predictive data to improve performance, to officiating tools, AI is playing an increasingly important role across the sports industry.

People may call it a revolution; in fact, it’s evolution on the largest scale, just like the yellow line, instant replay, drones, micro cameras, immersive gaming tools and all other aspects of immersive technology have been.

Evolving NFL Broadcasts

At the highest level of sport in this country if not the world, is the NFL. We know the numbers … 94 of the top 100 most-watched broadcasts in 2023, Peacock’s average of 23 million viewers for the NFL Wild Card game, etc.

Also, let’s not forget that audience. There’s never been a time in media history when so many different age groups are simultaneous consumers of the same live content experience, such as an NFL game. Boomers. Gen X. Millennial. Gen Z. And even Gen Alpha (thanks in part to Taylor Swift). The expectations these generations bring to an NFL broadcast vary as much as their ages.

The NFL today is leading the charge forward in everything from global expansion to fan engagement, and that includes broadcast innovation. Live game data informs and entertains fans, it keeps them excited and challenged, it makes them want more.

This new wave of data-driven insight began with replay analysis through the Sports Emmy-winning RomoVision. Step two has now come with incredible breakthroughs on Amazon’s Prime Vision with Next Gen Stats, widely seen as a trailblazer in AI-powered sports broadcasting.

What’s next? Putting the fans on the field. Prime Vision has gone far beyond providing a data-driven broadcast with a wealth of team and player stats, to put them in a position of seeing what is happening from a player’s perspective in real time, without compromising any of the integrity of the gridiron.

Using Next Gen Stats, “Prime Targets” showed viewers which receivers are open for the quarterback to pass to with a green circle under the relevant player. “Defensive Alerts” highlights players before the snap with a high likelihood of blitzing the passer with a red circle. These well-thought-out and highly complex additions to the broadcast arsenal have taken “next gen” to “this gen,” maybe even faster than we thought possible a year ago.

Genius Sports’ Role

The complexity of using live game data to inform and entertain each generation differently presents enormous challenges, both for the game presentation and the engine that makes it possible.

Like all the other ventures I have been involved with, there is a risk and reward factor. Balancing engagement and new features that excite the casual fan and doesn’t drive away the ardent core is a challenge. Combining live data and video in real time, while ensuring the user experience is pristine, requires a specific and advanced technology stack. That’s where Genius Sports has been innovating.

Our work this past year has been in creating a broadcast augmentation pipeline that combines in-depth tracking data, computer vision and machine learning capabilities to automatically track and understand what is happening on the field or court. Working with our partners, we deliver new insights that fans are anticipating. We feel their emotion and use data to drive to their interests, their passions and their touch points in real time. It is fun, it is seamless, and we think it is incredibly important to enhancing the future live game experience.

So where are we going? The lessons on the NFL field have already led to what’s next in basketball, as we grow our offerings with CBS tied to college basketball, with more nuances on the horizon, all of which put the fan and the integrity of the game first and foremost.

Sit back and rest? Not on your life. Embracing, not fearing, the anticipated unpredictability of technology will allow global sports properties to push beyond existing single-screen boundaries. It’s how we’ll create the ultimate entertainment product.

Let’s keep learning and moving forward. The future is here, and we are loving not just what we are seeing, but what we are feeling and engaging with, and we are just getting started.

Prior to joining Genius Sports, Bornstein was founder, president and CEO of NFL Network, and chairman and CEO of ESPN.

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