What If…Sports Video Consumption Is Changing? (VR edition)

Our last post looked at the impact of OTT and mobile on traditional TV entities like ESPN. Clearly today’s consumer has many more choices to consume all sorts of different content and the options continue to expand. What’s on the horizon? Sports VR.

Virtual Reality (and Augmented Reality) is here and starting to carve out its space. Research firm Tractica estimates combined revenue for head-mounted displays (HMDs), VR accessory devices (controllers, hand tracking devices, locomotion devices, and VR vests/suits) and VR content will increase from $108.8 million in 2014 to $21.8 billion worldwide by 2020. Cumulative worldwide sales of HMDs will reach 200.1 million units. Over 52.2 million accessories will also be sold in this period.

As with any new category, one way to gain a useful perspective is to follow the money. AR/VR is the new kid on the block. VCs have already invested over  $1.7 billion in the 12 months ending March 2016, $1.2 billion of that in the first quarter of 2016 alone. There are already four unicorns in the space (over $1B valuation): Magic Leap, Oculus, Blippar and MindMaze. Mayfield Venture Capital Managing Director Tim Chang has described VR as “the next evolution of human storytelling at a whole new level — this is what it’s like to be me.”

So who’s doing cool work in the sports VR space? One company is NextVR who has jumped into live sports experiences with both feet. They were at the Master’s tournament in April covering two of the holes. This season they broadcast an NBA game (Warriors/Pelicans) in VR. And, they’ve worked with Fox Sports on boxing, auto racing and the Big East men’s basketball tournament. This week consumers will be able to watch the 9th, 17th and 18th holes of the US Open in VR.

Another interesting company is LiveLike VR. They are building virtual stadiums such as for the Manchester City soccer club on the Samsung Gear platform (and others to follow) which will create a communal virtual viewing experience. Eventually, their plan is add Facebook integration so friends can seamlessly be invited to join the experience.

Leagues are likewise getting into the action. In February, the PGA Tour introduced their first VR videos shot for the Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale. Two videos took viewers to the practice area for an immersive instructional experience with PGA pros. Another created a virtual experience on the course’s famous 16th hole with pro Rickie Fowler.

These are but a few examples of what is brewing in the sports VR space.  The VR Fund, an early stage investor, has diagrammed the VR industry landscape as they currently see it. Obviously this will continue to expand and evolve.  Like any early stage environment (think of mobile video in 2005 when it was a choppy, inconsistent experience), not every implementation will be perfect. There are as many questions as there are answers (we’ll address them in a future post). Yet, it’s a most exciting time to be watching the space. Play Ball!

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