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IBM smashes Flash out of Wimbledon, serves up HTML5 app

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Next month’s Wimbledon tennis championship in London will serve up more player data than ever before and, for the first time, deliver live video to game fans over the web.

SPSS software from IBM will be deployed at all 19 courts and to capture information, draw up competitors’ stats and evaluate their performance.

The kit is increasingly used in other sports to analyse players and predict injuries; the Leicester Tigers rugby club uses Big Blue's analytics for risk assessment, for example. It has also been used to study play on Wimbledon’s outer courts, but 2012 will be the first tournament with SPSS covering every court, including centre court and court number one.

IBM’s software will crunch minutiae game data - such as how fast a player runs, the distance covered and speed of turn - that’s fed in manually and electronically to build up a stats-based picture on aspects of the game, such as returns and consistency of servers.

SPSS runs as part of the Wimbledon Information System (WIS) installed at the venue in southwest London and that uses DB2 on System x and Linux.

The output will be chewed over by pundits, pros and the public from online scoreboards that have been redesigned from Flash to HTML5 to help Wimbledon capitalised on growth in mobile traffic, specifically iPhones and Android. The expansion in the SPSS will mean more data served up to the web using HTML5 by the Wimbledon tournament than ever before.

The Wimbledon website got 450 million hits during the tournament’s two weeks last year, and 7.6 per cent of that traffic came from mobile. Between 10 and 20 per cent of that came from an iPhone app that IBM had launched in 2010 – the Android build arrived last year. IBM, meanwhile, is relying on HTML5 for the iPad instead of building a dedicated app at this stage.

Flash is far too, er, flash

“Traditionally our on-demand scoreboards have been built in Flash, and Flash let us be very visual in the way the information could be presented,” IBM's Wimbledon client and programme executive Alan Flack told The Reg. “But tablets don’t support Flash and we are seeing an increasing number of these.”

Andy Burns, IBM lead consultant, added that the tennis-watching mobile public wants more data and less graphics – the latter being something Flash basks in.

“We may have sacrificed some of the visual eye candy, but our site is not about that – it’s about providing the rich and accurate stats. Our fans want to see stats rather than fancy transitions. We don’t need the power of Flash. We are quite OK using the power of HTML5,” Burns said.

Scoring might be stripped down but video is on the rise and this year’s tournament will see live match play broadcast online for the first time from Wimbledon.com – a move OK’d by the Lawn Tennis Association.

Video will be encoded using H.264 and played using the Daily Motion player. There won’t be geographic restrictions on the live feeds, meaning it can be viewed anywhere.

Flack added: “Hits to the web site grow every year – whether that’s through mobile or traditional laptops or computers. Mobile is driving a lot of additional traffic. It’s probably bringing sport to a wider audience.” ®

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