Virtual reality is becoming increasingly mainstream, with a number of sports, entertainment, and news programming options offered by providers such as Major League Baseball (MLB) and USA Today.
A new partnership between Intel and MLB puts the nation's pastime on the leading edge by using the latest video technology. The companies began collaborating in June to stream ballgames in an immersive, VR-enhanced format. As part of a three-year deal, Intel is live-streaming one out-of-market ballgame for free every Tuesday. The games can be viewed using the Intel True VR app on Samsung Gear headsets. The streams include the ability for viewers to toggle between multiple 4k-resolution camera angles, listen to exclusive in-app commentary, watch post-game highlights, and access on-demand replays for each game.
“As a VR partner of MLB, Intel is delivering a truly immersive virtual reality livestream where fans can experience the excitement of being at the ballpark every week," says James Carwana, general manager, Intel Sports Group. “The addition of live stats ... is another example of how we're giving fans more control to personalize their baseball experience."
According to an Intel survey of 500 baseball fans, 71% of those surveyed said they would be interested in watching an MLB game in a VR format. What remains to be seen is if fans are willing to pay a premium for the VR experience, and the hardware needed to view it. Of course the hope is that creating this content will create demand for the hardware, and advertisers will follow as well.
In addition to the Intel app, MLB also has rolled out a VR option for its own At Bat app. The VR functionality includes features such as 360-degree video on-demand and live stats. Accessing the new “At Bat VR" requires the Daydream VR app and headset, and an MLB.TV premium account.
USA Today's VR News Format
In the news arena, USA Today continues to expand its weekly virtual reality news show that debuted last year. The “VRtually There" format was launched in partnership with YouTube, and includes an exclusive sponsorship with Toyota.
In season two, new segments will be rolled out every Tuesday. Viewers are provided with immersive, first-hand experiences, ranging from wild adventure and extreme nature to iconic America and behind the scenes with VIP access. Viewers can pan around in all directions, again bringing a new level of interactivity as they "look down" inside a video of a highline climber crossing a canyon on tiny rope (be forewarned: it's slightly terrifying).
The segments are filmed and produced by journalists across the U.S., adding a variety of topics and viewpoints into the mix. They are available via the USA Today app, within the VR Stories app, and via YouTube.com/VRtuallyThere, which has exclusivity for the first 60 days after each episode's release. The show is best viewed in VR on a mobile device using Google Cardboard, but is also available for viewing on other devices.
“With over 10 million views of 'VRtually There,' we are bringing together amazing advances in VR technology, and an even higher ambition to tell the most gripping stories and bring new experiences to our audience in VR," says David Hamlin, executive producer of the VR program.
New VR Advertising Unit
In addition to delivering immersive content, the VR news format creates completely new advertising opportunities for brand partners. For example, as part of the partnership , USA Today also developed what it calls the “cubemercial," the industry's first VR ad unit created specifically for the VR medium. Toyota was featured in the first ever cubemercial, along with 60 seconds of branded VR content.
“We believe in creating amazing experiences for our guests, so we're excited to help launch USA Today Network's innovative VR show, bringing incredible virtual reality experiences to its audience," says Lisa McQueen, media manager for Toyota Motor Sales Inc. “The network's approach to bold storytelling and use of new mediums aligns with our brand and our creative approach."
Look Around — the Action is Everywhere
While VR news and entertainment content is proliferating, sports-related VR programming is definitely where the action seems to be right now. Over the past year, for example, Fox Sports has offered more than a dozen major events in VR, including the Super Bowl, professional tennis, college basketball, college football, and a heavyweight boxing fight. Most recently, Fox Sports streamed a VR option for the UEFA Champions League final soccer match between Real Madrid and Juventus. Fox worked with partner LiveLike to livestream the match through the free Fox Sports VR app. Fans were able to access the content with a simple headset, such as Samsung's Gear VR or Google Cardboard.
There's no denying that content creators are leading the charge when it comes to VR and 360 video. Fans seem to be eating it up. For news, sports, and entertainment enthusiasts, the time may have come where they start bringing along a portable VR viewer wherever they go. While the advertising experience inside these immersive environments is nascent, we know that once it takes off, it will unleash a whole new era of exciting ways for brands to connect with deeply engaged audiences.
Check out our newly released 360 video ad units—just the thing for brand marketers looking to make the most of immersive video assets.