Going to NBA games was a huge part of my childhood. My favorite team, the Golden State Warriors, were extremely hapless when I was a kid in the late 90s and early 2000s, trading away good players for virtually nothing and suffering from the overall effects of poor ownership. However, recently things took a turn for the better with the Warriors winning the 2015 NBA Finals.
When the NBA All-Star Game was held in Oakland in 2000, one of the interactive exhibits during All-Star Weekend allowed you to create your own commentary while you watched clips of NBA games. Fan interaction has always been important for the NBA—the NBA Cares project has connected the organization with the less fortunate, and several NBA games have been played outside of the United States and Canada, generating fan interest around the world. Now, the NBA is seeking to create highlight reels of the league’s favorite players using a program called AVGEN. Whether it be the Golden State Warriors’s Stephen Curry hitting one of his numerous three-pointers or the Cleveland Cavaliers’s LeBron James dunking on another player (an act called “posterizing”), fans across the world can enjoy professional basketball highlights as they occur.
“We analyze the video itself to figure out where the players are on the court, where movement is, [and] do audio analysis to figure out the perfect ins and outs for every moment,” said Aviv Arnon, vice president of business development at WSC Sports, the company behind the AVGEN software. The company seeks to curate highlights of every NBA player in seconds, using image recognition software to identify players and the plays they want to include in the highlight reel.
The NBA does create its own content, but the editing process has been lengthy. “Prior to AVGEN, all of our content was produced by editors in a room cutting packages together,” said Mike Allen, the NBA’s senior vice president of digital products. Allen noted that these editors now have better tools to work with. “With AVGEN, we now have the ability to really do almost unlimited numbers of packages based on the demand from fans around the world.”
WSC Sports always wanted to team with sports media, and chose the NBA as its test ground. “The NBA was one of the first that we went to with the technology in the beginning,” Arnon said. The company used the NBA Development League (NBDL), the minor league of the NBA (equivalent to Major League Baseball’s farm system), as its pilot project. Since then, 20,000 clips were created, or about 350-450 per game, giving fans variety regarding what they wanted to see from their favorite teams and players.
While players like Stephen Curry and LeBron James are undoubtedly popular worldwide, foreign players in the NBA could also be highlighted in their home countries using this technology. Names such as San Antonio Spurs player Tony Parker (France) and Dallas Mavericks player Dirk Nowitzki (Germany) regularly appear on highlight reels while giving up-and-coming players such as Cleveland Cavaliers player Matthew Dellavedova (Australia) or Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece) wider recognition.
While fan-created content is popular on YouTube and Snapchat, many of these fan creations have run afoul of copyright law before. However, the NBA and WSC said that they will eventually open the AVGEN software up for basketball fans. “We know the opportunities are here to create a lot of fan-facing experiences and applications using video, which is where digital media is going,” Arnon said. “But there’s the question of creating the best product out of it.” With basketball being one of the most popular sports around the world, rest assured that AVGEN will be in good hands.