PGA TOUR Digital Team Drives OTT, VR Efforts at Players

For the PGA TOUR Digital team, the Players Championship is the ultimate opportunity to test out new ways to engage fans both on the course and around the world.

“This event is a home game for us, and we can do things here we just can’t at a lot of other places,” says Scott Gutterman, VP, digital operations, PGA TOUR. “For example, we are working on personalization for the fans onsite, and that is something that can be eventually taken out to other events.”

The PGA TOUR LIVE app allows golf fans to catch plenty of early-morning action from the Players Championship.

The PGA TOUR LIVE app allows golf fans to catch plenty of early-morning action from the Players Championship.

Making the event better for fans onsite is only a small part of the efforts Gutterman and a team of approximately 15 are undertaking this weekend. Now that the tournament is in the midst of its second round, the digital machine is up and running at full speed, delivering a wide range of experiences across a wide range of platforms.

“This year, we are looking at a lot of newer, forward-looking technology. Last year, we were focused on mobile technologies, apps, and developing a stronger platform,” says Gutterman. “This year, the emphasis has been on the launch of the new OTT service with PGA TOUR LIVE, and then, for the Players Championship, we are getting engaged with VR.”

That engagement builds off testing the PGA did with Facebook and Oculus last year.

“We are on the course, capturing and telling real stories with the help of Striver Labs,” says Gutterman. “We actually have our own VR app in the Oculus environment.”

The PGA TOUR’s experience with VR is, as it is for everyone in the industry, a learning experience. The biggest lesson so far? That live VR coverage of a golf event is difficult, no matter how great the camera rig is.

“The cameras can’t capture play on the green as you can’t be on the green,” Gutterman points out. “So our emphasis is on the VOD experience and creating something that takes fans to places they can’t go and that they can watch any time. Plus, you can promote it for months.”

One place VR is taking viewers this week is the small island in the middle of the lake between the 16th and 17th holes.

VR may still be in the experimental phase, but PGA TOUR’s OTT service is in the commercial phase, allowing golf fans to subscribe and get their golf fix when NBC Sports and the Golf Channel are off-air.

“Fans are often missing the morning wave of players,” notes Gutterman. “This gives fans the opportunity to see all their favorite players play all four rounds.”

The OTT service also provides a test bed for content that might eventually be made available to TV partners and has slick graphical enhancements that deliver additional data and statistics.

“We’ve been working in conjunction with MLBAM to help build and run it,” Gutterman adds. “So there is data integration within the interface so the user can pull up graphic overlays.”

The OTT app is currently available on desktop or laptop computers, Android devices, iOS devices, and Apple TV and it’s heading toward being available on other devices as well, including Roku and Chromecast.

OTT and VR are not the only technologies on which the digital team is putting its energy. An example is a long-form journalism piece on Rickie Fowler that brings together video, images, and graphic timelines to create a true multimedia experience.

Says Gutterman, “We’re seeing how that piece will work on different platforms.”

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