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NFL debuts immersive VR highlights

The National Football League is finally delivering on a feature fans have been clamoring for since the development of virtual reality: immersive in-game and postgame highlights. 

The league has already rolled out the technology?powered through a collaboration between NFL Films and Voke, a VR production company specifically geared towards fan engagement for live sports and entertainment?in deploying the highlights of one game per week, and will continue on track through the end of the regular season. The NFL joins the NBA, MLS, and NCAA football in leveraging the technology, which was seen as a natural extension of sports consumption since its inception.

"VR has the potential to bring fans closer to the game than ever before, enabling unique vantage points that will enhance the fan experience both at home and in the stadium," said Alex Riethmiller, vice president of communications, NFL. "Whether it?s being on the sidelines or at the back of the endzone, VR can put fans in places that have been inaccessible until now. 

"And it?s not just about the on field action?VR also gives us a new tool to tell off the field stories that bring context and color to our game in a fresh and compelling way."

Voke VR
The collaboration has already produced two sets of immersive highlight reels: the first was on December 4 between the Denver Broncos and the Jacksonville Jaguars, the second between New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Dec. 11.

For those interested, future iterations of the NFL and Voke?s VR collaboration will take place this Sunday, December 11, between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Houston Texans, followed by a final production between Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles on New Year?s Day.

The VR platform also allows for viewing through multiple camera angles as well as synchronized DVR, meaning that viewers have extensively more options than a traditional watching experience, and can tweak some of the most granular aspects of watching football that are normally nonnegotiable. 

In addition, Voke?s cameras can be customized for different environments and its stereoscopic capture system provides the most natural view of the action, allowing fans to see realistic proportions and depth wherever they look.

The NFL is taking advantage of Voke?s TrueVR technology, which enables media companies to build live and on demand VR experiences for their audiences across a variety of mediums, including their own channels and branded apps. 

The platform has already been used by a number of organizations for major events, including the NCAA Men?s Basketball Final Four, the CBS Morning Show and live streams of concerts, NBA, NFL and college football games. 

The partnership also finds the NFL in promising company: Voke was acquired by Intel Corporation in November 2016.

Immersive sports
Fans will be able to access the NFL VR experience for free in the NFL channel within the Voke app.

Those checking the temperature of the media industry have already been welcoming the rise of virtual reality in sports, and a number of competitor technology companies have stepped up to define the space. Fans of the University of Notre Dame football team were able to watch their team in 360-degrees thanks to a new partnership between the team and virtual reality company NextVR (see story). 

And Fox Sports partnered with VR company LiveLike in September to broadcast the college football matchup between Ohio State and Oklahoma live through virtual reality for all Android and iOS users (see story).

"(Monetization is) an area that the industry is still figuring out," Mr. Riethmiller said. "I can see a variety of models co-existing, from ad-supported to subscription or pay-per-view, depending on the nature of the content. 

"VR is still in the innovation phase of developing experiences and technology that will drive adoption and scale," he said. "Once there?s critical mass and a better understanding consumer behavior, the monetization models will follow.

"With media consumption continuing to shift toward digital and specifically mobile, it?s very important for us to meet our fans where they spend their time. We continue to make improvements to our O&O products and form key partnerships in order to engage more directly with our fans on mobile."