Fox Sports Raises Its VR Game

Expanding and enhancing its virtual-reality efforts, Fox Sports will add interactive features and capabilities to live broadcasts it is delivering to 360-degree, digitally rendered “suites” in tandem with startup LiveLike.

A few of those enhancements were present for Fox’s VR offering of the Dec. 3 Big Ten Football Championship Game between Wisconsin and Penn State, with a heavier load of new features slated for the network’s coverage of the Dec. 10 MLS Cup between Toronto FC and the Seattle Sounders.

But first a recap of what’s going on here. Fox Sports will use LiveLike’s VR platform to stitch the live, 2D stream of those games into a digital, 3D suite that also provides access to a broadening variety of interactive elements.

For the Big Ten championship, Fox Sports and LiveLike added a range of improved point-of-view indicators and camera positions. For the game and the VR option, it used five cameras, including an Ultra HD camera on a cart that offered a sideline view of the line of scrimmage on every play, the general eye camera that views the entire field, and cameras affixed to each goal post.

For the MLS Cup, Fox Sports’ VR feed with LiveLike will, for the first time, allow viewers to rewind the game in 30-second increments (going as far back as 30 minutes). That will initially be offered on the Fox Sports VR app for iOS, with plans to extend the functionality to Android and Gear VR for future events. The feature will also allow viewers to view replays from different camera angles. The offering will provide more real-time stats, such as shots on goal and passing accuracy, that can be pulled up from within the digital suite.

The latest updates and enhancements come after Fox Sports and LiveLike teamed up for the Sept. 17 football clash between Ohio State and Oklahoma.

Though Fox Sports has been offering VR experiences of sports events through its partnership with NextVR, the LiveLike platform “gives you a different kind of VR experience,” said Michael Davies, senior VP of field and technical operations at Fox Sports.

“While live VR is important, you need to give the viewer something else to do,” he added, citing the elements that provide access to replays and stats. “We think that the audience will come for the live VR, but they will stay for some of the other things they can do with it.”

And while VR and digital suites increase the cool factor, there’s also the need to make money. The good news is that there’s been some preliminary interest, as Fox Sports has secured sponsorships for past VR events, such as with Toyota for the Daytona 500 and Lexus for VR coverage of the U.S. Open golf tournament.

“We’ve had an awful lot of interest in VR” from advertisers, Davies said. “There’s a lot of education that’s going on with the ad agencies and the sponsors to see where they fit in. They want to make sure they are not getting in too early and they want to make sure they’re not getting in too late. But they want to make a splash.”

He’s likewise confident that the LiveLike offering will open up new doors to advertisers, because there are opportunities for them to brand the suite or even offer some content within it.

“We’re definitely beyond the experimental phase,” Davies said.