The ‘Reality’, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Mixed Reality. And the most recent addition, the Metaverse. From a sports media perspective, it’s a bit tricky to identify the right ‘Reality’ and navigate through them. In a world with so many R’s, what does each of them mean? And why are they important to the sports industry?
At some point in our life, we all have experienced live sports. Either by visiting the venue or by sitting at home or in a bar watching the LIVE broadcast of an event. That’s ‘Reality’.
With the advancement of technology and the demand from highly curious new-age viewers, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) entered sports.
A bit of history and background
The exact origins of Virtual Reality (VR) technology are disputed, partly because of the challenges in the universal terminology. It came into the spotlight in 1950s and has been on a quite steady rise since then.
Virtual Reality unlocked a new way to consume sports content — by using the VR headset. This requires a complete virtual reconstruction of the game and opens up exciting possibilities for a viewer to control what and how they want to see. VR steaming has been an idea many top-tier sports organizations were intrigued by. For example, NFL attempted to stream some games in VR. Or a famous 360-experience by Manchester City, bringing global fandom closer to the Etihad stadium experience. And the global pandemic only accelerated the demand.
However, live sport in VR is far from its peak. With the launch of Facebook Oculus and a few others, headsets are getting more mainstream and comfortable. But they are still far from being widely accepted and cosy to spend hours in.
Augmented Reality origins are closely associated with VR, both technologies share the idea roots. And just like VR, Augmented Reality got its momentum when the tech ecosystem was ready. Specifically when smartphones became mini supercomputers, unlocking access to AR to millions of people around the world. Although the technology isn’t limited to mobile devices, AR is closely connected with them. Especially with the introduction of AR filters on Snapchat and Instagram. Augmented Reality adds an extra layer of information to the real world. A famous example is when you can try the Nike shoes on by pointing your camera to your feet.
Mixed Reality (MR) is an environment in which digital and real-life worlds are combined enabling interaction between virtual and physical objects. It’s quite similar to a more commonly used AR. The difference is in the level of interaction between the real world and virtuality. Continuing the example of shoes, if there was a ball to hit your feet, AR shoes would disappear. MR shoes, on the other hand, would stay in your viewfinder, interacting with the ball just like the real shoes would.
Broadcast as a foundation of Sports Media
Now that you have a better idea of what VR, AR, and MR stand for, you may wonder: why is Mixed Reality important to the sports media industry in particular?
The speed of change in consumer behavior sprang from every generation to every couple of years. TV viewership numbers are allegedly dropping. There are rumors of low attention spans and attention deficit in Millenials and Gen Z (watch out for future posts). And, of course, the Pandemic forced the sports industry into a complete standstill for the first time in history.
With so many on-demand options and increasing social pressure, your viewers face hard choices. Spending over an hour watching one game, especially if it’s slow-paced, is no longer an attribute. It’s a luxury.
The sports media has a large toolbox to engage their fans. And it also has a larger set of challenges. Historically sports content was among the stickiest, meaning once a fan was always a fan. But today fans have much less trouble switching the team and the sports altogether.
Sports broadcast remains the foundation of the sports industry and the main medium to consume sports. With the fast-changing viewer behavior and ambiguity of second screens, broadcasting or streaming sports is changing too. This brings the quality of content into the spotlight. It has to be immersive, thrilling, engaging and, it has to be real-time.
Why is Mixed Reality important?
That’s where Mixed Reality comes in. COVID-19 pandemic has caused deep changes in the viewer behavior, probably deeper than we all can contemplate at the moment. Some players and spectators transitioned to esports. Others no longer wish to go through the inconvenience of traveling to sports venues. There is a real possibility that viewers may find traditional sports simply aren’t as dynamic as they once seemed. And the imperfections in the content quality due to sports happening in real-time are now much more visible.
This creates an opening that could be filled with mixed-reality solutions.
Broadcasting or streaming sports in MR allows enhancing the content with insights and dynamic, eye-catching graphics that are always contextual. Mixed-Reality adds another layer of virtual information that interacts with the players, the ball, or the venue. Adding MR to the broadcast feed allows the sports industry to connect the real-timeless of sports with the on-demand culture.
Real-time Mixed Reality transforms the viewer’s experience completely and, very importantly, in a non-disruptive way. Real-time MR, like OSAI, creates an illusion of high-end professional broadcast production, smoothing the rough-around-edges live sports content.
Mixed-reality sports not only offer a great viewing experience but opportunities for enhanced brand partnerships at sporting events. The past 18 months completely transformed the way sponsorship is evaluated and planned for. Mixed Reality unlocks new-form digital assets inside the traditional broadcast industry. This reduces the innovation risks for both broadcasters and sponsors. And pushes the entire sports industry forward.
We, at OSAI, take pride in the real-time Mixed Reality (MR) solutions that we have developed for Table Tennis, Snooker, Tennis, and many other sports yet to be announced. Reach out to us to experience our MR solutions.