HBO’s PunchZone Lands on the Web

HBO introduced its animated PunchZone program on boxing telecasts in 2009, but, this weekend, the knockout will move to the Web. The online version of the feature will launch at hbo.com/boxing this Saturday night, to coincide with HBO’s Boxing After Dark telecast from Las Vegas, and will allow fans to track punches in real time throughout the fight.

PunchZone enables boxing fans to log in and track where on a boxer’s body punches are landing, using a heat map that indicates where blows are being sustained on both fighters.

“The theory behind it is to allow viewers to track where punches are being delivered during a fight in different areas of the head and body,” explains Jason Cohen, director of East Coast production for HBO. “Numeric values and a heat-map color scheme indicate the number of punches landed in those areas. The colors change from yellow to orange to red, so that you can visually as well as numerically see where the areas of concentration are.”

Although the feature debuted online in 2009 to help the graphic representation of the sport and provide some analysis during the fight, PunchZone was designed to provide that information as a streamed real-time application on the Internet, which will happen for the first time this weekend and continue on all future Boxing After Dark and World Championship telecasts.

HBO's PunchZone offers a real-time graphical and statistical breakdown of where punches are landed during a fight.

“We’ve always felt that the Internet is a place that we should be in heavily, and boxing hasn’t had an application like ESPN Game Day or CBS SportsLine that allows you to track online what is being done during the fight,” Cohen says. “We are pretty excited that, on March 27, we can finally launch our Website version of PunchZone.”

A joint venture of HBO’s IT department, HBO Sports, and the Emerging Technology Group, PunchZone was developed completely in-house.

“HBO has some incredibly talented people in different parts of the company that were never really tapped before,” Cohen says. “Our IT and Emerging Technology departments have brought to life something that plays a major role on-air — not just developing the technology behind it but actually building the Website.”

In-house development also kept the cost down, which was part of the concept behind the project: to find an affordable graphic solution.

“We were told that we couldn’t spend thousands of dollars to travel people,” Cohen explains. “The beauty of PunchZone is, we’re not traveling people; we have almost everything done from New York.”

To create the PunchZone online application, a backhaul satellite feed is sent from the fight location to the HBO boxing studio in New York. There, trained operators watch the fight on a TV monitor, count punches as they are landed, and input the punches into the CompuBox statistical application as well as proprietary software that HBO’s IT department developed.

That information is then sent via HTML to the production truck at the fight, where the information is imported into the Chyron HyperX graphics engines and a Web database that pushes it to the PunchZone Website. The delay between seeing a punch on TV and seeing the heat map change online is less than five seconds.

“The most significant delay is the punch happening in the arena and that punch being seen by the operators in New York on the TV,” Cohen says. “That’s the largest latency. Getting to the Web has actually been the quickest part of the process.”

To access PunchZone on Saturday night, log in at hbo.com/boxing.