In 2016, FOX Sports has been one of the leading media companies when it comes to virtual reality integrations into its live sports broadcasts, including efforts around college football, the recent MLS Cup, Daytona 500 and Premier Boxing Championship, among others.
As 2017 approaches, one FOX executive believes that virtual reality has turned the corner and “graduated from the completely experimental phase into sort of an adolescence.”
Michael Davies, Senior Vice President of Field and Technical Operations, spoke at the 2016 SVG Summit earlier this month about the state of virtual reality, its production quality, improvements toward headsets and where the industry is headed over the next calendar year.
Davies explained that FOX has been testing with companies like NextVR and LiveLike what he and his colleagues call the magic window’, where fans can navigate around a smartphone screen in 360-degree video without the use of a headset. He stated that while viewing content with a headset will be the “best way to do it” once the technology improves, there are still ways to produce a worthwhile product without the piece of hardware.
“What I’d submit is that VR is becoming what I would call Second Screen 2.0’ in that it winds up being a much more intriguing companion product than the types of things that we figured out when we were doing the second screen in the traditional way,” said Davies, adding that anyone who claims virtual reality gives viewers the “best seat in the house probably hasn’t seen it.”
He further elaborated on how virtual reality adds another element of storytelling to any live broadcast. Even with the virtual feel, the production still needs to do more to engage viewers, according to Davies. If not, fans will spend a minimal amount of time watching the virtual reality content.
“You also need to give the audience something else to do. VR, in and of itself, isn’t enough yet to compel an audience to really look at it for more than a minute or two,” he said. “Whether you’re doing VR replay, you’re doing some VOD or you’re doing augmented reality graphics in VR, you need to give the audience something more. Interestingly, and to my first point, that also helps us think about some different things about how we can combine VR and the linear experience to make them all swim in the same direction.”
With the graduation from the experimental phase, as Davies first said, coupled with potential improvements on the technology and hardware side and a hopeful rise in production value, it will be fascinating to follow the viewership numbers (when they are made available) in 2017 and if the eyeballs are there to continue to make virtual reality a worthwhile investment.
The full three-minute discussion with Davies is below.