Major League Baseball (MLB) and Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) announced yesterday a deal to live-stream a free game every week using Intel's True VR app on Samsung Gear headsets. The announcement comes on the heels of efforts by several other broadcasters, service providers and sports organizations to try and stir up demand for virtual reality (VR) through sports. (See Orange Serves VR, IoT at French Open Tennis Tournament and Climb the Highest Mountain: BT's McRae.)
The agreement is for three years, and will address only out-of-market games. (Local games in the US are typically bound by exclusive TV agreements, and are blacked-out in those markets on other channels.) The service will also include post-game highlights and on-demand replays.
This is the most recent initiative announced by Intel, but it has been working with other sports organizations including the NBA, NCAA and NFL to create and distribute VR content and drive awareness, interest and adoption by taking advantage of consumer interest in sports.
The True VR MLB app offers viewers a choice of multiple camera angles -- Intel will install multiple camera pods with a total of 49 4K cameras for a detailed view of every corner of the field. Viewers can also elect to watch a "VR-cast" which will be a fully produced VR broadcast by Intel. The experience will include statistics from the MLB and other sources.
MLB also offers a VR service titled "At Bat VR" for Google Daydream headsets, but that does not offer live streams in 360-degree; only highlights. Intel also argues that its app offers a more immersive experience, with multiple viewing options, on-demand statistics and exclusive commentary.
Intel (in conjunction with Turnkey Intelligence) also released the findings from a survey of 500 MLB fans, aged 18-64, assessing their attitudes towards VR technology. Seventy-one percent were interested in watching an MLB game in VR that they are unable to attend, and 61% felt that more technology would improve their viewing experience. Almost all -- more than 90% -- of respondents said that the option to flip between various perspectives is the most appealing way to experience live MLB game content in VR.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that sports coverage is the best way to drive adoption of 360-degree video and video-related VR applications. It does make sense, in that sports fans are the most engaged with content and interested in seeing events from multiple angles (such as offside call during a soccer match, for example) which VR streams can enable. Plus, VR suits additional content, such as highlights, post-game analysis and data visualization possibilities for statistics, which are all relevant and valuable for sports viewers.
As some of our readers have pointed out in their comments on prior posts, a form of augmented reality has existed in sports for years in the form of first down lines in (American) football, and in the sketched lines that TV sports analysts can draw to show movements on the field in post-match analyses.
Still, VR does face significant challenges. The trade-off between visual quality and bandwidth requirements is probably the most important, but is very closely followed by the requirement for headsets, and their cost and weight/comfort level. Then there's the question of viewers having trouble viewing VR for long periods -- baseball matches can go on for a while! And there's the cost of new equipment for VR production, though that is common to any new technology and will likely come down as the market grows.
But if VR is to succeed, sports and related coverage will probably be an important driver, and while initiatives like these are speculative and experimental, we are hearing of more and more, and from a growing number of ecosystem members.
This can only be good news for VR proponents.
— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation