Wednesday’s CES 2019 panel on immersive media looked at the future of entertainment, particularly as it relates to sports viewing. Content and media experts from Fox Sports, the NFL, NextVR, Intel, and Yahoo Sports talked about the technologies that are on the way and how they’re going to change the way people use and interact with media.
For a long time, fans have had two options for watching sports: paying money to go to the games or staying home and watching the broadcast on television. In recent years, online viewership has emerged as an option, but it’s still just TV broadcasts repackaged for online consumption. The rise of virtual reality (VR) and 5G, however, is opening up new opportunities for sports broadcasting.
Sandra Lopez, VP of Intel Sports and Media, set the tone early, saying that she envisioned a future where each viewer would be able to put themselves in the game, choosing their individual viewpoints. Maybe you like watching hockey from center ice so the action’s never far away, but maybe your best friend enjoys watching from behind the goal so they can watch plays develop as the puck moves up and down the ice. The Immersive Media panelists believe we’re not far away from a future where both will be possible.
Right now, we’re still a little limited by technology. “The achilles heel of VR has always been screen resolution,” said Danny Keens, VP of Content for NextVR. You can’t feel immersed in an environment if the images are of lower quality than what our eyes detect. Sure, we can film in 4K, and now 8K, but transmitting that level of quality to a VR headset is still a little beyond our technological means.
That’s where 5G, the big buzzword of CES 2019, comes in. Lopez said that 5G is a necessity for handling the amount of data being produced — including things like transmitting ultra-high-quality picture to VR headsets.
But the panelists said that the promise of 5G doesn’t stop there for immersive media. William Deng, VP of Media Strategy and Business Development for the NFL, painted the picture: “Imagine providing every single fan with an individual feed with unlimited points of view.” Essentially, each viewer would get to always pick their seat and presumably change it at any time. Geoff Reiss, GM of Yahoo Sports/Verizon Media, added: “This is the absolute most exciting time I’ve ever seen in this industry.”
The panel ended with a look toward the future: What would we see at CES 2024? Deng imagined the utility of VR expanding beyond commercial use, potentially enhancing officiating and broadcast operations for the NFL. Lopez envisioned a world where “immersive media” was an established form, sitting alongside traditional and digital media. Reiss focused on the interactivity, saying, “I think it’s the social element that’s really going to unlock the greatest adoption.”
Keens’ response was straight and to-the-point: He said he’d be surprised if, five years from now, you couldn’t stand up and virtually walk the field, stage, or arena of whatever event you were spectating.
Maybe by that point, you’ll even be reading our CES coverage from your stylish VR headset.
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