Rosh Singh, managing director at ‘innovation production studio’ Unit9 (pictured below) reveals the tech innovations that could breathe life and energy into the broadcast of an unattended game.
VR is a terrible medium for watching sports. Even ignoring the fact that the distribution of headsets is too far too low for it to be meaningful, VR is in no way a better medium than a flatscreen to watch sports. Why? Because a big part of the appeal is the social aspect, with people consuming games as a group experience either in the home or pub.
Unfortunately, VR’s isolating headsets means the medium is not well suited to social-led experiences.
What’s more, the average session time for VR is 38-minutes, much less than your typical sports broadcast. And that 38-minute figure is skewed towards prolific gamers and enthusiasts who are likely to have a far higher threshold than the average viewer.
Don’t get me wrong. VR is a beautiful medium, a machine for creating empathy and engendering emotion like no other. But the content needs to be masterfully crafted to the medium. The frenetic game-play, quick cuts and non-stop action that we all love in sports is a one-way ticket to the VR vomitorium.
So if VR isn’t the answer (yet), what is?
Once games can finally be played again, the prospect of having those games watched by packed stadiums may well be a long way off. So we face a prolonged period of Behind-Closed-Doors sporting events. This has led to numerous thought experiments around how the crowd atmosphere can be synthesised in order to breathe life and energy into the broadcast of an unattended game.
For me, the solution is fairly obvious. Instead of relying on tens of thousands of spectators in the stadium to provide the atmosphere, why not tap into the millions of viewers at home?
Fans’ smartphones can be turned into a conduit of excitement, sentiment and atmosphere. By aggregating the actions of a global fanbase and feeding this data back to the stadium in real-time using audio and visual representations within the stadium itself, we can create a feedback loop to inspire players on the field and inject some excitement back into a spectator-free game.
And this connection could be engineered to go both ways by feeding the action from the field back into fans’ devices. We could bring player action closer to those watching from afar by, for example, recreating tackle crunches that reverberate through smartphones using haptics; or real-time heartbeat and biometric data visualisations to transfer the sense of tension into viewers’ homes.
Augmented Reality (AR) also has a huge role to play. While it may not replace the traditional TV broadcast, it can greatly supplement and enrich the experience by bringing additive value. At its most basic, AR can offer dynamic and interactive statistics in real-time during the game, allowing audiences to view, manipulate and interact with information during the broadcast.
Imagine watching a football match and having an AR top-down graphical view of the entire pitch in real time (if you played Championship Manager in the 90s, you know). It could allow spectators to view formations and player movements visualised on a tabletop. Click on a player to instantly view player stats, alongside their movements and actions across the pitch. This is the very definition of an ‘additive experience’.
As 5G continues to roll-out (if pyromaniacal conspiracists stop burning down masts), the type of content that can be transmitted over the air and in real-time will improve to the point where interactive AR replays could be available on devices within seconds. Simply breath-taking.
It’s a gigantic under-statement to say that we all have more important things than sports to worry about right now. But simply having games played and broadcast again would be a victory of sorts; a way to bring entertainment to the isolated masses. And if we can add an extra layer of tech-led interaction on top to improve markedly the ‘Behind Closed Doors’ and at-home viewing experiences, then perhaps something good may have come out of this crisis.