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The NBA's highlight-making machine goes live today

A new program can cut highlight reels in near-real time

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The internet is taking sports highlights to new heights. Take Steph Curry, arguably the NBA’s best shooter of this or any generation. When he scores 41 points in a single game or even hangs out with Drake, it’s quickly posted to YouTube or GIF’d for Twitter, where it racks up hundreds of thousands of views. Curry is a viral phenomenon, and he’s not alone.

The NBA is happy to reap the benefits online. During this year’s NBA Finals, the league says it saw 336 million video views on NBA.com and the NBA mobile app, as well as 98 million views on Facebook. Those numbers are growing, and the league sees a massive opportunity in creating more content for fans looking for highlights from not just superstars like Curry, but from any player in any game. To accomplish that, the league is collaborating with Israeli company WSC Sports to do what human curation can’t. The tech is called AVGEN, and starting today it'll allow NBA teams to automatically create highlights in near-real time.

AVGEN

On a basic level, AVGEN is software that automates the video editing process that creates highlight reels. According to Aviv Arnon, WSC’s VP of business development, "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." That means analyzing fans screaming in the stands and color commentary, as well as player stats to determine what plays meant for the game as a whole. Most importantly, the software uses image recognition to also identify players and the types of plays being made. So if an outlet wanted to create a highlight reel of DeAndre Jordan’s slam dunks, they’d simply need to specify those terms in AVGEN before getting a clip minutes later. That clip can then be shared to the waiting eyes on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter on the fly, ready for easy consumption. Which is great, since the NBA has 3 billion cumulative views on YouTube alone.

Analyzing where players are and how they score

AVGEN is the fruit three years of concerted development on WSC’s part, building on years of data and video work. The company always aimed at teaming with sports media. "The NBA was one of the first that we went to with the technology in the beginning," Arnon told The Verge. "The first reaction was ‘Prove it.’" So the company piloted the software with the NBA D-League for a full season. The league was thrilled, expanding the software to 18 of its teams to create shareable content. Since that initial pilot, it has created more than 20,000 clips, at a rate of between 350-450 clips per game.

"Prior to AVGEN, all of our content was produced by editors in a room cutting packages together," Mike Allen, the NBA’s senior VP of digital products, said. Those editors haven’t been replaced, Allen insists, but are now able to create more unique packages. "With AVGEN, we now have the ability to really do almost unlimited numbers of packages based on the demand from fans around the world."

AVGEN

The NBA hopes to use AVGEN to meet global demand for highlights from less famous players, and the videos themselves will land across the web via NBA.com, WNBA.com, official NBA team sites, and on social platforms today. Promoting a player like Steph Curry is obvious, but the NBA also found that custom-created highlights created of players like Andrew Bogut of Australia or Tony Parker of France drew in thousands of viewers on NBA.com from their respective countries. Allowing teams to create hyper-localized content for their home audiences offers a major opportunity for the NBA to grow its viewership and create superfans. And it’s the superfans who tune in to the most games, buy the most merchandise, and bring in the most money to the organization.

Tech like AVGEN could one day be given to the fans

Creating a similar suite of tools for fans may not be far off. American professional sports leagues are already embracing social video, though some have been more reluctant to allow fan-produced content. The NFL, for instance, is now making exclusive video for Snapchat, though it has been aggressive about taking down content produced by third parties. The NBA doesn’t seem bothered by the same prospect. (It certainly doesn’t mind LeBron James Super Saiyan GIFs.) When asked, both the NBA and WSC seemed open to fans one day taking AVGEN for a spin.

"We know the opportunities are here to create a lot of fan-facing experiences and applications using video," said Arnon, "which is where digital media is going. But there’s the question of creating the best product out of it."

Correction 12/8: A previous version of this article stated that AVGEN would be made available to media outlets. That was incorrect, the product is just being used by the NBA. We apologize for the error.