Covering the World Cup 2018 with AI and automation

Fox Sports, The Times, and Le Figaro have tapped into AI, voice AI, and automation for their World Cup reporting.

Freia Nahser
Jul 19, 2018 · 8 min read

The World Cup 2018 is all over. Germany was kicked out in the group stages, Brazil was beaten by Belgium, football didn’t come home to England, Croatia with its population of four million people reached the final for the first time ever, only to lose to France in the end.

Beyond being glued to our screens to watch the action on pitch, we’ve been looking at what newsrooms are doing off-pitch to cover the competition… with automation and artificial intelligence. Fox Sports (US) teamed up with IBM Watson to make AI-powered highlight videos, French publication Le Figaro created automated visual summaries, and The Times (UK) launched its very own World Cup Alexa Skill.

Image for post
Image for post

Fox Sports: The AI highlight machine

Image for post
Image for post
Fox Sport’s highlight machine

Scanning thousands of hours of video material in seconds

‘In essence, Watson Video Enrichment acts as an automatic metadata generator that is trained to use clues, such as facial characteristics, the presence of a red card, crowd noise, what’s being said by announcers and other characteristics, to create metadata that makes the massive amount of soccer video searchable’, wrote Phil Kurz on TVTechnology.

Fox Sport’s highlight machine via Engadget

Users can create their highlight video filtering out by year, team, player, game, or play type, such as penalties or goals. To give an example, you can ask the machine to give you a highlight video of Ronaldo’s goals in all World Cups he’s ever played in. (The machine comes up with thirteen highlights and the video last about three minutes in case you were wondering.) The clip is generated in just a few seconds, which is impressive seeing as an enormous amount of video needs to be scanned and analysed in order to create it.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, gathering such data would normally be done manually, but considering the scope of the World Cup, that would be almost impossible: Mowrey, told the publication that the World Cup 2014 alone added up to roughly 98,000 hours of video content.

Le Figaro: Automatically generated visual game summaries

No human can work that fast!

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Examples of Mondial Stories cards designed by Le Figaro internal graphics team, led by art director Nicolas Chapon.

Push notifications

Automation: no extra costs, no team bias

  • The tool is neutral. There is no preference for any team (even the French team), which makes it objective: It’s about the data above anything else.
  • Seeing as the project was a very last minute effort, the team didn’t have much time to look at the business side of things, but they’re hoping to update it for the UEFA Champions League and the French Ligue 1 (French men’s pro football league). For this, they’re hoping to secure sponsorship by a big brand. ‘I can’t tell you which, but we have a very strong lead’, said Paquot.

…But messy data and time constraints

  • Seeing as the team didn’t have much time, they dropped the idea of making the animations native (swift/kotlin) and instead made them in HTML5. They hadn’t done this before, so an entire new animation library had to be built. According to Paquot, making sure that this worked well performance and display wise on all devices was a huge challenge. ‘We tested on 25 different devices we have in the office and various simulators and felt satisfied’, he added.
  • If they had wanted to make something more ‘engaging’, they would have needed many more resources to ‘deep-etch’ all players from the World Cup and use their real pictures in the stories. ‘This would have needed tremendous effort from our Graphics team and we would have needed to buy the rights to the pictures of all players, meaning a huge cost for small gain’, said Paquot. For the Champions league edition, Le Figaro is negotiating with UEFA and Paquot hopes that they will be able to provide picture packages.
  • Another challenge is that Le Figaro has access to live stats, but not the history. This means that they could not make comparisons, such as ‘He ran 34km in this game, and on average he runs 27.3km’. For this, Le Figaro would have needed to build its own database, which would have taken a lot of time to feed into, Paquot told us.
Image for post
Image for post

The Times: Hey Alexa!

Voice AI for experimentation

‘Alexa, launch Times Sport’, was all listeners had to say in order to get a taster of the day’s World Cup headlines and an interesting fact about the competition. Those who made it to the end of the briefing were prompted to listen to The Times’ World Cup podcast hosted by presenter Natalie Sawyer.

The Times’ content is firmly locked behind a paywall, so the Alexa skill served as more of a sampling tool, according to Sam Joiner, interactive news editor at The Times and The Sunday Times. ‘It offers users the opportunity to listen to our journalism without registering or subscribing, which you have to do with our core products, such as the website or the app. It is off-platform, and in that sense our partnership with Amazon was about experimentation and discovery: can we successfully launch a quality, voice-based product, and is there an audience out there for it?’

Image for post
Image for post
Presentation of the skill on Amazon

Reaching new audiences to drive subscriptions

While it is hard to tell how the audience reacted to the skill given that there is no direct feedback route unlike comments on an article or a tweet, Joiner tells us that they have clear evidence of repeat listens, suggesting that people were returning to the briefing.

‘Can we successfully launch a quality, voice-based product, and is there an audience out there for it? The answer would be yes. From a development and production perspective launching a quality, voice-based product was an undoubted success, and our numbers show there is an audience for it’, said Joiner.

The limitations: speed

Image for post
Image for post
To learn more about the AI for News Study Tour, click on the image above.

Global Editors Network

The Global Editors Network (GEN) was the worldwide…

Thanks to Evangeline

Freia Nahser

Written by

News & innovation reporter @GENinnovate

Global Editors Network

The Global Editors Network (GEN) was the worldwide association of editors-in-chief founded in 2011. It ceased its activities in November 2019 due to lack of sustainable finances.

Freia Nahser

Written by

News & innovation reporter @GENinnovate

Global Editors Network

The Global Editors Network (GEN) was the worldwide association of editors-in-chief founded in 2011. It ceased its activities in November 2019 due to lack of sustainable finances.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store