Formula 1 revs up VR viewing for racing fans
- Formula One (F1) this month will start providing immersive virtual reality (VR) experiences of its auto racing events, according to an announcement. The organization, which is owned by John Malone's Liberty Media, partnered with The Dream VR to create a 360-degree video channel for racing fans.
- The F1 VR channel will first show highlights from October's Mexican Grand Prix, including behind-the-scenes footage of British racing driver Lewis Hamilton's fifth world title celebration. F1 also plans to post 360-degree videos from last month's 2018 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
- Fans can immersive themselves in F1's 360-degree videos on any device that's compatible with The Dream VR app, including smartphones, smart TVs and VR headsets, per the announcement. Next season, F1 will create immersive experiences around 10 races for the app.
F1 is among the sports organizations working to engage mobile audiences in their events with more immersive VR experiences. 360-degree videos, which are the most rudimentary — but also the most accessible — form of VR, let viewers use a headset, smartphone or desktop computer to look around a virtual setting as if they were there. The videos are more immersive than traditional TV or two-dimensional streamed video, letting viewers more deeply connect with the experience. How F1 will integrate sponsorships into the VR videos or monetize the platform remains to be seen, but with its solid fan base, F1 will likely be able to snag advertiser dollars.
F1 has recently begun to appeal more to younger audiences, who are growing increasingly likely to watch sports on mobile devices. The organization last year partnered with Snapchat to share fan-produced videos and pictures at races, reversing an earlier policy of removing fan videos from social media channels in order to protect the media rights of broadcasters. In January, F1 claimed to have the fastest-growing brand on social media in 2017. At that time, its followers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube totaled 11.9 million, a 55% jump from the prior year, ESPN reported.
The move to incorporate mobile features like 360-degree content comes as VR technology is still relatively new. While its use in marketing has been somewhat slow, research shows that VR and immersive elements tend to drive high levels of engagement around content. A YuMe study last year showed that in-game VR ads aided same-day recall for 70% of viewers in formats including pre-roll video ads, branded logos and 3D branded objects. Consumers reported appreciating how the ads were smoothly integrated into the virtual content and found the VR ads to be less intrusive than other digital ads. This points to how F1 could monetize its new immersive content by weaving relevant ads into videos.