MLB to Launch VR-Enhanced Broadcasts, but Live Games Won’t Be in 360 Video

MLB At Bat VR live streaming
Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media

League's At Bat VR mode will debut June 1 for Google's Daydream headset

Major League Baseball is about to give hard-core baseball nerds a new way to experience its live-streaming games with virtual-reality features.

On June 1, MLB’s At Bat app will be available in a VR mode, initially for Google’s Daydream headset and Android smartphones. That will let users access live stats and scores — all while watching games in HD video — including a 3D strike-zone cube that sits directly in front of the viewer. The At Bat VR mode also will provide a collection of 360-degree on-demand videos to view in the headset.

“We think the next frontier for data visualization will be immersive,” said Jamie Leece, MLB Advanced Media’s VP of games and VR strategy on mobile, digital and social gaming platforms.

But for now, the league’s VR ambitions won’t extend to the game broadcasts themselves.

MLB has experimented with producing live games in VR and expects to deliver a full game in virtual reality sometime later in 2017, according to Leece. Stumbling blocks include the cost of the cameras. There’s also the problem of producing VR broadcasts of baseball games that bring fans into all the action – a challenge given that MLB ballparks cover a playing area of 50,000 square feet or more, Leece added.

The VR features in the At Bat app, such as they are, will be available to subscribers at no additional cost. At Bat is available for $2.99 per month (or $19.99 annually). To watch live games in the app, users must subscribe to MLB.TV Premium, which costs $24.99 monthly (or $112.99 for the whole season) and includes access to At Bat.

Who’s this really going to appeal to? Besides early adopters of VR and stat-driven baseball fans, the At Bat VR experience will be of interest to cord-cutters, Leece suggested. That’s because the app’s VR headset provides a field of view that’s equivalent to the biggest HDTVs on the market.

MLBAM has been developed At Bat VR for about a year, and the league will add support other VR platforms in the future, according to Leece. At the Google I/O developer conference this week, the company announced partnerships with HTC and Lenovo to build standalone Daydream-compatible VR headsets.

Separately Thursday, MLB and Facebook announced a live-streaming deal under which the social platform will broadcast 20 free games (one game per week) this season.

MLB Advanced Media is separate from BAMTech, the streaming-video infrastructure entity that is majority-owned by Major League Baseball with Disney holding a 33% stake.

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