The BBC Sport VR – FIFA World Cup Russia 2018 app is taking football fans right to the heart of the action this summer.
The app, which is available in app stores now for both iOS 10/Android 5 and above, uses the power of Oculus and Samsung Gear VR – as well as Sony Playstation VR – to get viewers closer to the action than ever.
The objective for the project was to allow people to experience the World Cup like never before, “using a different kind of experience that makes the most of this emerging technology,” as Neil Hall, BBC head of product – sport, tells TVBEurope.
“Essentially what fans or users will experience when they download the app, is access to a director’s box on the halfway line in the stadium in Moscow,” Hall explains. “You’re able to walk into the virtual reality lounge area, take a box seat and watch live action for the BBC’s 33 live games. When watching live games users have a choice of camera angles from the 180° live feed.”
Live games will be accompanied by real-time data for fans to keep up on statistics, and will also include the BBC’s match commentary: “It’s mocked up like a virtual living room so when you’re watching a game the live stats dashboard is on the coffee table in front of you to look down and interact with,” adds Hall.
If users arrive in the app when it’s not a live game moment, they’ll be able to watch all the highlights from the World Cup in all its 360° glory, on smartphones via Cardboard or on headsets for a more immersive experience.
Hall expects to see the largest audience across smartphones: “For us it’s a great opportunity to do an experiment like this around a big tournament with some fantastic content, and learn how the audience uses it,” he says. “We’re tracking everything, so it will be good to see the types of engagement we get from the headset version which will help us understand how better this technology could be used as part of our offering around major events in the future.”
The app, which has been rigorously tested over the last few weeks, builds on a 360 video experiment the BBC did around the Olympics in 2016. Two years on, we’re seeing another major event and another step forward in terms of the experience that the BBC is able to offer.
“There’s certainly been a lot of interest around it and it seems to be capturing people’s imagination, which is pleasing to see,” says Hall. “The interesting thing to see will be how they continue to use it throughout the tournament. There’s always huge audiences, both online and through traditional television, so it’s a question of how this emerging technology fits in with people’s personal preference of watching games. We hope it will go down well with younger audiences as they’re more well-versed at interacting with content in this way.”
Let’s get digital
Another area that the BBC has been pushing in terms of its digital offering is personalisation. The main BBC Sport app is an ideal example, where users can now get alerts on every team at the tournament from line-ups to goal alerts.
“We’re really pleased with the capability we built into the app earlier this spring, which essentially allows us to send video notifications direct to people’s lock screen,” Hall explains. “We’ve also seen success in developing a couple of participatory and interactive elements into our core online platform.”
The BBC’s Player Rater lets fans do exactly that in real-time. Hall expects football die-hards and casual fans alike to use the tool, which lets them rate the England players' performances out of ten: “This really helps us get a sense of what viewers think about the team’s performance, and also generates great talking points and content for our broadcast and digital services.
“It builds on an app which we’ll be using again for the pre-match mode, which is effectively selecting squads; you can put yourself in Gareth Southgate’s shoes, select your England team, and we can then see what the nation thinks should be the England line-up for each of their games. This is really good for our data journalism as we get a really good sample of people using these tools.”
Digital has certainly got a big role to play in terms of live coverage for the BBC, which has put a real effort into enhancing its live experience, making it more streamlined and faster than ever for those on mobile devices.
“We feel like these events are really important to us as yardsticks for measuring how our services are progressing,” Hall concludes.
“Virtual reality is a very exciting domain for sports coverage and it feels right for us to be the space and experimenting so we can stay at the forefront of the sports broadcasting industry, providing richer and more immersive experiences for audiences.”