Technology has potential to revolutionize viewing experience.
The sandy shores of Copacabana Beach were thousands of miles away for most sports fans, but many were able to soak up the atmosphere at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games thanks to 300 hours of virtual reality coverage.
The Olympic Games is the kind of visually compelling, exclusive event that is perfect for VR content. As the technology evolves, it could change the media outlook for the next summer games in Tokyo in 2020, and the winter games in 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and in 2022 in Beijing.
After a failed outing in the 1990s, VR recently resurfaced. It did not live up to its potential two decades ago, mainly because computers could not create graphics that were good enough to persuade users that they were in a different world. The technology also lacked the head, hand and movement tracking capabilities that make modern VR so exciting.
In the last two decades, however, VR has improved immeasurably. The content now feels impressive and immersive, and many companies are hopeful that the technology needed to create a believable virtual world has arrived.
Asia is at the forefront of driving mass adoption of this technology. The best VR equipment, such as HTC's Vive goggles, can be found at theme parks, shopping malls and experience centers across the region, and there are more than 100,000 internet cafes offering VR sessions for just a few dollars.
Manufacturers are making accessible and inexpensive VR adapters for smartphones.
Sports organizations, broadcasters and tech companies all need to work together to make VR a crucial component for live sports events, starting with the fan experience. Already, live sport on TV is under pressure as subscribers increasingly ditch pay-TV for on-demand services, fans watch pirated streams and the millennial audience is distracted by social media.
At the same time, social media players are eyeing a piece of this pie -- Twitter, for example, has been buying sports rights and broadcasting live, and YouTube recently announced its live TV streaming service. ESPN, the face of sports broadcasting in many countries, lost more than a million subscribers from October to December 2016 alone, according to Nielsen, a global consumer monitoring group.
Yet, in an era of cord-cutting, live sports coverage remains the big driver of audiences for pay-TV operators. Advertisers and corporate sponsors still spend heavily on sporting events. Sports clubs, players, agents, and coaches are awash with cash. All parties are happy with the mutually beneficial model -- but it can only survive if armchair supporters continue to tune in.
Broadcasters must understand that their main profit driver -- the audience -- wants to get closer to the game and action. It is about being at the best seat in the stadium and having close-up views of favorite players. VR plays a crucial role in providing that immersive experience.