Virtual Reality Just the Tip of the Tech Iceberg as Premier Boxing Champions Comes to FOX Network Television
The ring of the bell returns to FOX broadcast for the first time in a long time when the network continues its partnership with Premier Boxing Champions on Saturday night and both FOX and PBC are bringing the tech enhancements in a big way.
Among the highlights from Staples Center in Los Angeles include a live streaming true virtual reality (VR) experience done in collaboration with NextVR, one of the leading companies in the blossoming live VR space.
NextVR worked with FOX last year on some pioneering VR projects at a NASCAR race last March and at the U.S. Open Golf Championship in June. Those events required covering vast geographic surfaces to tell a story so the excitement is palpable for boxing, which offers an ideal climate for this type of immersive technology.
“Boxing lends itself to a couple of obvious positions to put the spectator in a very advantageous viewing position,” says Mike Davies, SVP, Field and Technical Operations for FOX Sports. “I think that the small size does help both from viewing the event as well as hearing the event.”
FOX Sports and NextVR plan to deploy three camera rigs. Two of them will serve as event coverage cameras and will be placed on the ring as close to the fighters as PBC will let them. A third camera will be dropped at different points throughout the arena to provide more of a feel of what its like to be in the building as a spectator.
“The thing about being in a boxing event,” says Davies, an avid boxing fan himself who spent a decade with HBO Sports earlier in his career, “when you witness the walkouts and the opening bell, it’s a moment that you don’t soon forgot if you experience it. If we can even get a piece of what that’s like, I think we’ll at least have done a small part of succeeding.”
While VR will grab the headlines on the Web, that portion will not overshadow the linear television production which promises to be one of the biggest boxing events FOX Sports has ever produced.
To find the last time FOX Sports aired a live boxing event on network television, you’d have to go all the way back to December 1995 when a showdown between Mike Tyson and Buster Mathis, Jr. gave the less-than-a-decade old network its highest-rated evening of programming ever (Nielsen rating of 16.1 with a 28 share). Sure, there was a packaged Oscar De La Hoya event in 1998 that included a match featuring the infamous Butterbean, but that aired opposite a Billy Crystal-hosted Academy Awards on ABC, so FOX didn’t really plan on giving it much of a chance.
Saturday night’s production is very much a collaborative process between FOX and PBC – led by boxing promoter Al Hayman – which plans out most of the camera placement and tech deployments. FOX plans to contribute with an Intertia Unlimited X-Mo camera, the MōVI three-axis gyro-stabilized handheld camera system (that provides a cinematic look), and two ringside Sony HDC-4300 cameras working at 8X speeds.
“With that, all replays coming from those handhelds are going to be nice, smooth, super slow mo shots,” says Davies. “I’m really excited to see those.”
The event – which is headlined by a showdown with undefeated Danny “Swift” Garcia (31-0, 18 KO) and former three-division world champion Robert “The Ghost” Guerrero (33-3-1, 18 KOs) – will be serviced by Corplex Iridium (owned by NEP Broadcasting) and will be produced by Barry Landis and directed by Rich Dewey, both FOX Sports standouts.