In the coming days, sports fans will once again be hooked to their screens to follow the Winter Olympic Games. This time around, those screens will include a variety of virtual reality headsets, where viewers will be able to watch 30 events as 360-degree broadcasts — including a live feed of Friday’s opening ceremony.
“This is the biggest production experience that we have delivered to date,” explained Intel Sports managing director David Aufhauser during a recent interview. Intel is producing the VR version of the Olympics in partnership with Olympics Broadcast Service (OBS), and then distributes 360-degree videos to 10 broadcast partners around the world.
In the U.S., Intel is partnering with NBC, the official Olympics broadcaster. Viewers can tune in by downloading the NBC Sports VR app, which is available for both Samsung’s Gear VR and Google’s Daydream VR headsets as well as for Windows Mixed Reality headsets.
Anyone who doesn’t own a VR headset yet can also download the app for iOS or Android phones on the App Store or Google Play, and watch 360-degree videos in a magic window-mode, tilting their phone to look around. Finally, NBC will distribute some videos on the web and social as well. Viewing on the web typically still attracts more eyeballs, admitted Aufhauser, but Intel has seen a shift towards VR viewing. “The idea is that fans will graduate from one to another,” he said.
Intel and NBC will make about half of the 30 events they stream available for live viewing, and offer other competitions as VOD videos. However, most of the coverage will only be accessible to consumers who subscribe to cable or another form of pay TV; authentication is being required within the app itself.
The NBC Olympics VR app also features some short doc features about individual athletes, as well as a medal board and archived clips from previous Olympics — but at the center are the live broadcasts, said Aufhauser. “We believe everything starts with live.”
To make these more unique, Intel is giving viewers the ability to switch seats in mid-broadcast and watch competitions from different angles, and in some cases also find perspectives that aren’t available to viewers on TV, or even at the event, said Aufhauser. “We want to have our cameras in places that the audience can’t go.”