Virtual reality stars at the World Cup

July 5, 2018
With the World Cup on, the soccer teams are not the only ones competing. Cable operators, broadcasters, streaming video providers and social media platforms are also contending for the gold when it comes to ...

With the World Cup on, the soccer teams are not the only ones competing. Cable operators, broadcasters, streaming video providers and social media platforms are also contending for the gold when it comes to fan viewership and content consumption, said Brice Clinton, senior engineer, CSG International (NASDAQ:CSGS).

The stakes are high since sports is one of the last bastions of so-called appointment television, and the World Cup is globally the most widely viewed sporting event. Fox Sports has English language broadcast, Telemundo has rights to the Spanish broadcasts, and while there is no exclusive streaming carrier, there are a lot of options. Fox Sports, for example, can be accessed not only via traditional cable, but also through over-the-top (OTT) video services like Sling TV or Hulu. Aside from that, others like Twitter are engaged. That outlet, in particular, has a dedicated World Cup hub, with highlights and fan-centric pieces, for example.

Telemundo is going all in with regards to virtual reality (VR). Games are being broadcast live in VR, with 180-degree viewing. The Studio shows and the opening and closing of the games are in 360-degree VR.

"VR has enormous implications on the consumption of sports from an in-home perspective and an in-venue perspective," Clinton said. He said the NBA's Golden State Warriors have produced a VR experience for viewers by placing the cameras in a courtside seat.

"You can follow the (players and) look at the Jumbotron. It is like you are sitting courtside. It is an immersive experience from home (if you) don't want to pay for a courtside seat," Clinton said.

Since Telemundo has the broadcast rights for the World Cup, viewers with VR devices can watch without paying for a specific package. And because the broadcast is only 180 degrees, the bandwidth requirements are not as great.

"It also introduces (viewers) to the experience. They can turn and watch the goalie in an immersive way, but not be completely immersed in a way they might not be used to (watching)," Clinton said.

One of the biggest implications for VR in terms of monetization is advertising, Clinton said, although this has not yet been "cracked." There is opportunity to make the advertising immersive as well. For example, instead of watching a Nike commercial with Kevin Durant, the viewer could hop on a trolley, go to Nike town and look at shoes, via virtual reality. Or, there could be a person in the virtual seat next to you, drinking a Bud Light and suggesting you do so, too.

While bandwidth and buffering can be a challenge, so too is the fact that people often like to utilize social media while watching television, especially sports, which again is appointment television. People like to gather in homes or bars to watch, and they also connect using social media. With VR, everyone is currently isolated even if they are in the same room because of the necessity of wearing the devices.

Clinton said there is discussion about creating a virtual room where multiple people could watch the same content. For example, for viewing a Warriors game, three friends could be in three adjoining courtside seats. And regarding fan interaction by social media, there is the possibility that the social piece could be overlaid inside the experience.

While VR gets the medal for technology of the games, the winner of the world cup in terms of where people are watching won't completely be known until after data is compiled. Will people be watching the broadcasts through a traditional cable subscription or getting channels like Fox Sports via an OTT scenario?

"It will be interesting to see if there is high viewership from YouTube or Playstation because younger people (tend to be) more interested in soccer and might not have cable subscriptions," Clinton said.

About the Author

BTR Staff

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STEPHEN HARDY
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