Don’t just watch, immerse

There was a time not long ago when the intersection of sports and tech pretty much began and ended at floor seats for Warriors games. No longer.

Indeed, in the five years during which Golden State has built an NBA dynasty and changed the way the game is played, the consumption of American sports as a whole has undergone a sea change — one that has seen the leagues and networks, in concert with technology companies worldwide, embark on an unprecedented collaboration that’s served to decisively alter our viewership standards and expectations.

Digital streaming. Immersive content. Volumetric video. Virtual reality. Concepts and technologies that were once alien to most are now suddenly core components of the sports-viewing lexicon. Such is the hyper speed at which the sport and tech spheres have become inexorably intertwined — so much so that for some it’s difficult to distinguish one from the other.

Immersive content is all the rage

When I say Intel, you probably think hardware components in my laptop and iPhone, not sports content.

Yet here we are in early 2018, and Intel has rapidly grown into a major player in the sports content space. With acquisitions of companies like Voke (a VR company that focuses on streaming sporting events) and Replay Technologies (which specializes in 3D video broadcasting software) and through the ensuing build-out of Intel Sports Group, the tech giant is making their mark on the sports industry. That metamorphosis has given way to significant investment from leagues and networks for the development of VR sports viewing experiences and other immersive content.

Those efforts helped contribute to an overall 2018 Q1 that was arguably the most content-rich period sports fans have ever experienced. In January, the NFL wrapped up its first full regular season with Intel True View in place. In February, NBC worked with Intel Sports to introduce VR integration to a chunk of its coverage of the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games. And in March, the NCAA, Turner Sports, and Intel Sports joined forces to bring fans into arenas and onto the tourney hardwood through the NCAA March Madness Live VR app, in addition to offering 360-degree highlights of game-breaking plays from the Final Four.

Intel, NBC, and Turner are far from outliers in this new tech-infused sports content landscape. ESPN has ventured into the VR space as well, springing to life parts of the 2017 X Games through immersive VR in collaboration with Samsung. This past October, the NBA announced a partnership with NextVR to bring 27 live games throughout the 2017–18 season to fans in an immersive 3D VR environment. The list goes on.

Immersive content isn’t restricted to those with headsets, either. FOX and its tech wing FOX LAB have worked to roll out ref cams in college football and rugby. Similar immersive offerings like ESPN’s Pylon Cam and NASCAR’s Visor Cam have also helped to quench the bring-us-closer thirst of fans. And the rise of volumetric video has paved the way for phenomenal advancements in instant replay technologies like 360-degree replays and Super Slo-Mo — all serving to underscore how leagues and networks are responding to the desires, imaginations, and curiosities of today’s viewers.

Steady rise of streaming

Not to be lost in the mix is the continued rise of streaming as a preferred consumption choice, specifically for younger audiences. For the most striking evidence of this viewership trend, look no further than the cathedral of American television programming — the Super Bowl.

Record-setting streaming numbers helped make SB XLII the 10th most-watched show in TV history (Getty)

NBC revealed that Super Bowl XLII was the most streamed game ever, reaching a peak of 3.1 million concurrent streams across its multitude of platforms, a tell-tale sign that linear television is slowly losing its grip on what has long been an eyeball monopoly.

ESPN’s Apple TV MultiCast feature illustrates how much more dynamic over-the-top (OTT) content delivery is than linear cable TV. Viewers can easily build an on-screen mosaic of two, three, or four feeds, allowing fans to keep tabs on multiple games and multiple camera angles, when available. Custom, multimedia viewing experiences are far more engaging and immersive than traditional channel-flipping.

ESPN’s digital properties are powered by BAMTech, which has exploded from a small spin-out of MLB Advanced Media into one of most influential and disruptive companies in digital media, powering video streaming solutions and platforms for the likes of the NHL, PGA Tour, WWE, HBO, Hulu, and more.

The leagues, meanwhile, have taken notice of the increasing prevalence of streaming, resulting in year-over-year leaps in the price tag on media rights for streaming packages.

Amazon paid $50 million for an 11-game NFL package in 2017, a five-fold increase over the the $10 million Twitter paid for a similar package in 2016. And Facebook is set to roll out an exclusive 25-game MLB package replete with social-specific production offerings in 2018 to the tune of $30–35 million, according to Bloomberg. This comes just one year after the social network debuted its MLB streaming service with a modest 20-game simulcast package at a fraction of the cost.

The sport-tech union is here to stay

There’s no other way to put it: The leagues and their media partners find themselves in the midst of an arms race for content, and the next frontier is manifesting through partnerships and collaborations with the tech world.

At ActionStreamer, where our mission is to further cultivate that sport-tech union, we’re thrilled with the direction the industry is headed; it’s squarely in our wheelhouse, as we’re focused on facilitating unique perspectives from in and around the game, a segment of this much larger umbrella of modern, tech-induced content.

ActionStreamer’s high-level goal is to parlay our smallest-of-its-kind hardware and patented approach, which enables us to maximize and make the most efficient use of available bandwidth in “chatty” environments like stadiums, into compelling multi-POV digital streams of all your favorite sports on all your favorite platforms.

We’re making steady progress toward that end, thanks to collaborations with the Arena Football League, Monumental Sports, and University of Michigan Athletics. But we want to keep churning to bring POV power to all corners — NFL, MLB, NBA, PGA Tour, NHL, NASCAR, MLS, you name it.

ActionStreamer is helping leagues & networks put the fan in a multi-POV, multi-platform drivers seat

Imagine if a push notification you receive, alerting you that Alex Ovechkin has just notched his second goal of the game to catapult you into the lead of your fantasy match-up, were to be accompanied by a multi-POV clip of the play itself. Picture experiencing, through a first-person perspective, the sequence of passes and moves that shook the defenders and seeing the puck whiz right by Jonathan Quick into the back of the net. Pretty cool, right?

Imagine if the ESPN MultiCast mosaic you’re assembling on any given evening regularly included on-field POV angles? When Rob Gronkowski leaps to haul in a perfectly placed ball from Tom Brady in the corner of the endzone on Monday Night Football, picture seeing numerous instant replays side-by-side — traditional broadcast slo-mo, Intel True View volumetric spin-around, and a curated POV clip showing what Brady, Gronk, & Gronk’s helpless defender saw as the play developed. Are you feeling immersed yet?

While that’s merely a window into our workshop, it stands as a fitting encapsulation of precisely the kind of rich, immersive, multi-faceted content that we’re working tirelessly to mainstream for sports consumers everywhere.