United Soccer League uses AI to create clips in near real-time
By: Troy Dreier, Contributor, Streaming & Digital
Wednesday, June 13, 2018 - 2:03 pm

With more than 550 games in the regular season alone, creating clips for all the United Soccer League’s various social platforms is daunting. When hiring additional video editors stopped being a feasible solution, the USL went looking for a different path. And that path was AI.

Artificial intelligence is proving itself in the world of sports video. Although human editors will always be in demand, AI tools are able to create clips and populate them with tags and metadata. Clip creation is a problem the FIFA World Cup is solving with help from IBM’s Watson, but the USL is going with a solution from WSC Sports.

The league first gave WSC a try during the 2017 USL Cup Playoffs, running 15 games through the company’s software. According to Vincent Wiskowski, director, digital projects and emerging technology, USL, his team was impressed with the ease of the workflow, as well as the fact that video production could be increased without increasing staffing.

“While we actually had fewer staff members working on game nights,” he says, “we were simultaneously producing probably five times as much content. The real value was the information we now had about each game: the technology was allowing us to search through about 300 plays it had tagged per game. This is when it became clear that we had to make the partnership happen in time for the 2018 season.”

That’s why the USL has announced an ongoing partnership with WSC Sports to automate creation of highlight clips for all of the league’s regular-season and playoff games. The WSC turns out between 250 and 300 clips per game, notes Shaka Arnon, head of U.S. operations, WSC Sports. His company’s software identifies each play and creates a unique clip for it; whether it’s a shot on goal, a defensive error, or a defensive act or assist, it gets a clip.

Even having to wade through 300 automatically generated clips would be a burden, but WSC Sports solves that by rating each play based on its place in the game, the score, and the responses of the crowd and commentator. That rating lets editors jump to the most important plays in each game. The software can create highlight reels of a game’s best moments at whatever length the user requests.

WSC Sports does all this using two software products. AVGen automatic video generator creates content at scale and turns out highlight reels, and Clipro online directory lets editors access the plays from each game and curate their own selections.

WSC is based in Tel Aviv, Israel, with a staff in the dozens. Its software runs in the cloud and is hosted by Microsoft Azure. Vista Worldlink live-streams USL’s live videos to Azure, and AVGen creates clips instantly. The software has run hundreds of concurrent operations, and, as long as Azure can scale up with demand, there’s no limit to the number of clips it can process. AVGen is optimized to create clips for 10 sports: soccer, basketball, football, baseball, hockey, tennis, cricket, golf, surfing, and esports. The company has worked with the NBA for four seasons, as well as with Cricket Australia, FIBA, the Australian Basketball League, and the World Basketball Association.

For the USL, having instant access to its best clips has a variety of advantages. “We see video — and especially live game footage — as a way to grow our brand and engage our current fans,” Wiskowski says. “One of the objectives in this partnership was about getting our clubs and players to use their own match footage to build their brand.

“Another one,” he continues, “was figuring out how to provide video to media to help grow our brand. It has also allowed us to quickly turn around and share video content with our broadcast partner, ESPN, which has aired more of the best moments from the 2018 USL regular season on linear broadcasts than ever before. In the past month, we had a week where four goals appeared on the ESPN SportsCenter top 10, something we’d never have been able to contemplate in the past.”

Highlight clips even help behind the scenes. Clubs, for example, use them to analyze their performance and that of their opponents. Clubs can create highlight reels of only particular types of plays, then show them to players to help improve weaknesses.

WSC Sports continues to improve features to attract more customers. Plans call for support of more sports in the near future, along with localization and personalization features to give every viewer the appropriate highlights. Fans will be able to share those personalized highlights over social media.

Thanks to AI, the future of sports will be highly personalized. Viewers may enjoy the same games, but they definitely won’t have the same experience.