Fox Sports Adds Virtual Reality to Super Bowl LI Live Stream

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Fox Sports' mascot, Cleatus the Robot

In a break from past Super Bowl games, the network will allow users to stream the matchup on its website without having to sign in through a cable provider.

The Super Bowl is traditionally a time when broadcasters introduce new bells and whistles. And this year, Fox Sports’ live stream of the matchup between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons will have “near real time” interactive highlights in the Fox Sports VR app that will allow users to relive the games’ best plays. The turnaround won’t be instantaneous, explains Devin Poolman, senior vp digital platforms for Fox Sports.

Rather, users will be able to open the app in the second quarter to watch a highlight from the first quarter with 180-degree video captured from five or six camera angles on the field. The experience will work with a standard Android or iPhone device and also with the VR gear or cardboard glasses. It’s something Fox Sports has made available on a much smaller scale during coverage of college football and Major League Soccer.

“It’s more about interactivity than it is about VR,” says Poolman, adding that the network’s research reveals that 43 percent of consumers aged 14-25 are consuming content on devices that are not living-room television sets. In other words, they’re watching on devices that are inherently interactive. Online viewers also will be able to tune into Fox Sports’ Field Pass, which will show the field at Houston’s NRG Stadium an hour before kickoff.

Fox Sports will stream the game unauthenticated, while also adding targeted digital ad insertion for 170 of its more than 200 affiliates. Fox’s decision to forgo authentication was a technical one, since authenticated streaming tends to have more glitches. CBS Sports offered an authenticated live stream of Super Bowl 50 last year.

But the Super Bowl also will be the first mass-audience live sporting event since NBC’s coverage of the Rio Olympics saw ratings declines last summer — declines some industry watchers blamed in part on the availability of streaming. (NBC Sports’ live stream of last summer’s Rio Olympics had 100 million unique users, with a TV-only audience of 198 million.)

For the Super Bowl, the streaming audience is still small compared to the linear TV; last year, more than 111 million viewers watched CBS Sports’ coverage of Super Bowl 50 on TV, while the live stream of the game drew 3.96 million viewers across laptops, desktops, tablets, connected TV devices and mobile phones. But it is growing and generational. And Fox executives expect their live stream of Super Bowl LI to outpace last year’s game.

“The digital audience is not going to be miniscule, as proven by previous years, and we’re expecting growth this year,” says Brian Sullivan, president of Fox Networks' Digital Consumer Group. “The revenue is not miniscule either.”

Sullivan would not divulge streaming or revenue projections. “In terms of wider digital video consumption, which is a category that is so large that it could include everything from cat videos to the Super Bowl, all of them are growing. And ignoring opportunities that are growing is just not a smart way to manage your business. To me, it’s all about following the consumer and what the consumer wants to do. If the consumer suddenly decided tomorrow that they wanted to watch everything on linear TV, then we would spend all of our time on linear TV. But the consumer is telling us that they want to consume in ways that fit their lifestyle. And any content business that is not leaning in to giving the consumer what they want in terms of the content and the experience is just not managing for the future.”