US broadcaster Fox will be adding a virtual reality (VR) component to its broadcast of this Sunday's Super Bowl match-up between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons.
For non-US readers unfamiliar with the sport, the Super Bowl is the championship game of the annual football season in the US-based National Football League (NFL). It is a major event, very often the most watched US TV show on the year, and offers advertisers the most expensive advertising slots in the year as well.
This year, Fox will be partnering with VR company LiveLike to create an immersive virtual "suite" that will allow users to select from six different camera angles and watch 20 of the most dramatic plays during the game, as well as additional, specially created content. Viewers will need to be existing pay-TV subscribers to access coverage on the app but they will not be charged for the event itself.
Users will need to download the Fox Sports VR App, available for iOS and Android devices, and a Samsung Gear VR or Google Cardboard headset. There's also a magic window option, allowing viewers without headsets to explore a 360-degree view of the game.
Fox has previously conducted similar stunts using VR, for college football games and Major League Soccer (MLS), the professional soccer league in the US.
In a prior interview, Fox Vice President of Global Operations and Transmission Services (and a member of our VTAB advisory board) Keith Goldberg had talked about Fox Sports' initiatives with VR and said it may "choose to roll it out to other sports, but not until we see a clear opportunity to monetize. But until then it will be more "stunts," offering "occasional content only." (See Fox's Goldberg on Changing Climate for Broadcasters.)
I do think that's wise given the widespread uncertainty around the revenue models, technology approaches and even effective use cases today. A previous survey of the VTAB found that while the technology was interesting, members were still trying to understand its value for mainstream TV programming. (See VTAB: Virtual Reality Picture Still Unclear.)
Despite its popularity and high profile, though, I'm not sure the Super Bowl is quite right for this kind of app. The Super Bowl is quite a social event, usually viewed with family, a group of friends or at an external venue. Not everyone at the party will have downloaded the app, not everyone will have a headset -- and even if they do, they are going to be talking and sharing the experience. It is questionable whether viewers will want to interrupt the social aspect of their Super Bowl party to immerse themselves in a digital suite -- especially once the novelty wears off.
The magic window app is more likely to be used, as multi-tasking between mobile and TV screens is common. But that is a less immersive experience.
Also, the virtual suite doesn't immerse you in a game as much as it immerses you in a digitally rendered suite. You are just watching the game on a virtual large screen, in a virtual room. Again, an interesting experience for content that is less socially viewed, like a movie, rather than the Super Bowl.
I think the real opportunity for a VR app would be to create that social experience virtually. For a business traveler or person living abroad, the ability to share a virtual suite with friends and family while watching the game could be very compelling. Also, keeping in mind the eye-popping cost of a 30-second advertisement during the Super Bowl, there must be opportunities to use VR for enhancing commercial messages as well.
It does seem that this is very much an experiment for Fox. As Goldberg said, it's a "stunt," or a one-off exercise until the opportunity for monetization is clearer. Still, the scale of the event will help Fox understand major technology and traffic challenges, and it will help develop more insight into usage behaviors. Right now, that is probably the most important goal for the broadcaster.
— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation