Robotic cameras and automated production reduce Covid-19 risk at German tennis exhibition

The organisers of an exhibition tennis tournament in Germany are using robotic cameras, and semi-automated production to minimise the risk of spreading the coronavirus at the event, which starts today (Friday).

The Tennis Point Exhibition Series is being organised by Germany’s Base Tennis Academy, which is hosting the closed-doors event at its sports complex in Höhr-Grenzhausen. The event is being produced by data services company Sportradar and automated production company PlaySight Interactive.

The organisers claim the exhibition will be one of only two competitions to take place between ATP ranked players since professional tennis was suspended in March because of the pandemic.

German Dustin Brown (ATP ranking 239), is arguably the highest-profile, if not the highest-ranked, player to take part in the 32-match event, which largely features German or German-born players because of restrictions on international travel.

Sportradar and Israeli company PlaySight will use a combination of robotic and static cameras and artificial intelligence technology to deliver the pared down seven-camera production for the tournament, with live mixing and replays, graphics and German commentary.

“Of course, this isn’t without challenges given the restrictions in place due to the Covid-19 situation. To ensure that we’re compliant with those restrictions, we’ve configured a compact flight case set-up with only two operators at the venue, both of whom will be working remotely in separate isolated rooms and communicating via intercom to ensure social distancing measures are strictly followed,” David Lampitt, managing director, sports partnerships at Sportradar, told SportBusiness.

“To ensure minimal staffing numbers on site, we have robotic cameras in place alongside static, locked off cameras. Broadcast graphics are automatically generated in the cloud by PlaySight’s graphics engine which has integrated Sportradar’s live data feed.”

Israeli company PlaySight and Sportradar first began working together when they signed a deal to produce content for Belgium’s EuroMillions Basketball League in July 2019.

For that contract, the two companies worked together to provide a “full-service” production for EMBL, broadcast on Sportradar’s OTT platform. PlaySight provided AI and camera technology allowing for video officiating, scoring, video analysis for coaches and instant replays.

SportBusiness understands an umpire will officiate each match in the Tennis Point Exhibition series, but the PlaySight technology will remove the requirement for line judges.

PlaySight started life developing technology for the Israeli military before branching into sport. Its ‘Smartcourt’ technology is now used by a variety of sports rights-holders, including the Golden State Warriors, Toronto Raptors and the United Tennis Association.

“Our technology is ‘Smart’ because it takes the inputted data from the chair umpire, reads it automatically and provides match insights and the score flow, including mid-set and set summaries, as well as other interesting and relevant stats, such as deciding points won, points won in a row, and more,” said Rodney Rapson, managing director, PlaySight.

As reported by SportBusiness, the German tennis exhibition will be shown on the Tennis Channel’s new international streaming service launched this week. The new product is built on Sportradar’s OTT platform, which it claims will offer the most data-intensive experience among tennis media services.

The service is initially launching in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, with plans for other international markets further down the line.

“We always planned an April 2020 launch in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. As the pandemic has forced people to stay at home, there is a great demand for new forms of entertainment,” Andy Reif, senior vice president, Tennis Channel International told SportBusiness.

“Therefore, we decided that we could help satisfy this demand by staying with our original timing. Our decision was made easier by Germany, Austria and Switzerland starting to ease some of their restrictions. Of course, if the situation was getting worse or was dire, our thinking would have changed.

He added: “As tennis is a non-contact sport and by its nature practices self-distancing, I do see exhibitions as a way forward for tennis until the tours and tournaments can start again.”

Sportradar will offer a range of live betting data from the matches to its bookmaker clients. The company has moved quickly to fill the void left by the lack of sports action, developing a range of AI-driven simulated reality products for bookmakers to allow them to continue to provide betting markets.

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