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Fox Sports to broadcast first-ever live college football in virtual reality

Fox Sports is taking viewers close to the action by broadcasting the upcoming college football matchup between Ohio State and Oklahoma live through virtual reality for all Android and iOS users.

The broadcast is a partnership between Fox Sports and LiveLike, a VR company based in New York. The game will be available to anyone with a compatible smartphone and will require no extra equipment or peripherals.

?By putting you right in the heart of the action, VR takes you closer to the game than you?ve ever been, giving users a sense of immersion and presence that a regular broadcast simply can?t,? said Miheer Walavalkar, co-founder and chief business officer of LiveLike. ?However, there is tremendous value in TV production, and users don?t want to completely miss out on the same experience their friends and coworkers will be talking about on Monday.

?We provide the traditional broadcast for the users at the same time as VR by overlaying the TV feed through in-stadium ?virtual jumbotrons.??

360 degrees
The game will be available to anyone who downloads the Fox Sports VR application on their phone and signs in with their television provider. The broadcast will go live at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sept. 17.

The game may be watched without any specific VR headsets, such as Facebook?s Oculus or Samsung?s Gear VR. Instead, users can enjoy a 360-degree view just by holding their phone up in front of their heads, or through a cardboard headset.

Users can change perspectives while watching, switching between a vantage point from a box suite or from several on-field views.

?We provide users the ability to control their own experience through multiple, selectable POVs, and also include a number of interactive elements in the ?virtual suite? including statistics, highlights and replays,? Mr. Walavalkar said. ?The idea being that you should never have to take off the headset to get the same experience you?re already used to from watching sports for years.?

Fox is hoping that the VR experience will offer a more immersive way of viewing a football game than a normal broadcast would.

?VR allows viewers to more fully immerse themselves in the event ? from naturally looking around the field to switching viewpoints and camera angles,? said Devin Poolman, senior vice-president of digital platforms and technical operations at Fox Sports. ?This allows the viewer to step into the venue and come closer to actually being there, and is a great complement to the regular broadcast.?

Fox is planning to continue evaluating VR as a viable method sports broadcasting. In addition to this week?s OSU-Oklahoma game, the two will remain partnered for future broadcasts this college football season as well.

Virtual insanity
The capacity for virtual reality as a flexible tool for both publishers and consumers is still being explored, but early indications, along with investments from huge names such as Facebook and Samsung, suggest the hype is deserved.

VR as a vehicle for live event experience is not limited to the sports world. This week at New York Fashion Week, TreSemme is broadcasting Charles Youssef?s runway presentation in VR on YouTube (see story).

Virtual reality was also the subject of a large Samsung exhibition at this year?s Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, where speakers and demonstrations examined VR from a variety of perspectives (see story).

Virtual reality could be the gamechanger that reinvigorates the sports broadcasting world as young people move steadily away from traditional television and desktop viewing and towards mobile. FOX Sports and LiveLike are hoping to capture that VR wave just as it begins to swell.

?We expect the approach we are taking to make VR an immersive, interactive, social experience that is complementary to the TV experience,? Mr. Walavalkar said. ?We believe it provides broadcasters an additional medium to connect with sports fans that is additive for their user base.

?It also provides an avenue for sports sponsors to reach a fan demographic that is increasingly valued given the concerns around cord cutting.?