NCAA March Madness Live Brings Virtual Reality to Final Four, Championship

The virtual-reality bandwagon is filling up quickly. Following Fox Sports’ production of the Big East Tournament in VR earlier this month, Turner Sports and CBS Sports have confirmed that NCAA March Madness Live (managed by Turner Sports) will deliver live virtual-reality game coverage of the NCAA Final Four Semifinals and National Championship for the first time. The 180-degree live stream — produced in collaboration with VOKE VR and available via a new virtual-reality version of the NCAA March Madness Live app in the Oculus Store — will allow fans to follow the live game action via a Samsung Gear VR powered by Oculus.

The NCAA March Madness Live VR App is available to download for free through the Oculus store.

2016_Final_Four_LogoAccording to Craig Barry, EVP, production/chief content officer, Turner Sports, the VR experience will be “a true immersive experience” and viewers will be able to see the game from the point of view of the front row at center court.

Along with the live game presentation from a courtside perspective, fans will be able o view a virtual scoreboard with live stats. Audio will include game commentary by Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery, and Tracy Wolfson during the telecast airing on TBS, along with arena sounds. Additionally, the full tournament bracket will be presented in the app, complete with video highlights from each game.

Barry acknowledges that the subset of the population that has a Samsung Gear VR powered by Oculus (or any other VR headset, for that matter) is very small, so NCAA March Madness Live will simultaneously offer a 2D, 180-degree live stream on desktop (some features may be limited on selected browsers), widening the point-of-entry for viewers. In addition, 360-degree highlights will be posted to the NCAA March Madness Facebook page.

Turner Sports already has some VR experience under its belt, having worked with production partner nextVR on a virtual-reality presentation of the opening game of the NBA season (New Orleans at Golden State) on Oct. 27. The content was streamed to the NextVR portal, found on the Oculus Home app.

Turner has partnered with VOKE for its NCAA Final Four and Championship Game effort. The VR-production outfit, which has partnered with several pro sports franchises (including the Jacksonville Jaguars and Sacramento Kings) and delivered a live VR stream of an NBA game (Sacramento Kings-L.A. Clippers) to Mumbai, India, on Oct. 28, uses a non–fish-eye, true stereoscopic platform. VOKE’s platform streams both a live 180-to 360-degree 2D immersive feed for mobile, tablets, and broadcast, as well as a live VR stream consumable on every VR platform.

“We’re open to anybody who can bring technology to the table, because not all platforms and properties are created equal,” says Barry. “A 360-degree camera might work really well for golf but not work well for March Madness. When you are in the conversation about technology, especially in the way it pertains to content, you have to be very open to conversation because you never know where the good ideas are going to come from.”

Jason Dachman contributed to this story. 

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