Fox Sports Gets Immersive for Big Ten Championship With a Live GoPro on a Ref, Live VR

Network partners with LiveLike on VR experience

The Fox Sports Lab is at it again, bringing a bevy of advanced tech enhancements to Saturday night’s production of the Big Ten Championship game from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The network is set to deploy a first-of-its-kind camera angle from a ref on the field, multiple super-slow-motion cameras, and a live presentation of the game in virtual reality.

The Fox Sports field-operations team is set to partner with GoPro to place a camera in the hat of the center umpire to bring viewers onto the field during the game between Wisconsin and Penn State at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

“What you get is a very unique kind of camera angle,” says Michael Davies, SVP, field operations, Fox Sports. “We’re hoping this is cool and that it can add something to the coverage. The Big Ten is a big enough stage that we figured that we’d love to try it out. It’s in our Fox Sports DNA to constantly challenge our team to come up with new and interesting ways to enhance the viewing experience, bring fans closer to the action, and make the story of sports even more compelling.”

This isn’t your typical slap-a-GoPro-on-the-helmet-of-a-snowboarder. Working with Big Ten officials, GoPro has taken its classic camera casing, reassembled the system in a new fashion, and stitched it into the hat of the umpire. The signal will be sent to the truck in the compound via RF, and the angle will be used chiefly on replays. A full isolated digital stream of the camera will be available on Fox Sports GO.

Fox Sports had been experimenting with the idea and presented the concept to the Big Ten, but the league wanted to see a test of the system prior to its deployment at the Championship Game. So Fox obliged, having BTN use the system during the broadcast of the Minnesota-Wisconsin game in Madison on Nov. 26.

As for virtual reality, Fox Sports is teaming with LiveLike to produce a live VR stream of the game loaded with new features: the ability to rewind the game in 30-second increments (for iOS users only), the ability to control replays from different camera angles, live-stats integration, and a suite of highlights allowing easy access to on-demand content. Users will also have the ability to select their own camera angles, picking where they “sit” throughout the game.

This marks the third football game that Fox Sports has done in VR with LiveLike. The network worked on numerous VR projects over the past year, including with NextVR and VOKE, two of the other major players in the emerging space. Fox has learned a lot from two college-football VR productions this season (Oklahoma-Ohio State and Texas-Oklahoma), going with a presentation re-creating an atmosphere of a luxury suite where the user can access other content elements in the suite while the live game is available in a prominent window at the center of the experience. It’s a presentation style that Davies feels has its benefits.

“I think we all agree that most of the action, even in VR, is happening in front of you,” he says, “whereas you still want to be able to see around you. You want to feel immersed. By being able to cobble together a graphical suite and put everything in front of you, it really does give you that feeling of immersion without having to send 360 degrees worth of pixels out there, which can be very bandwidth-heavy. We like that a lot.”

The VR presentation of the Big Ten Championship Game can be viewed via the Fox Sports VR App, which is available for download in most mobile-app stores. Most smartphone users are able to check out the experience.

“The biggest thing about [LiveLike], we think, is that you don’t need any special equipment to enjoy the experience,” says Davies. “You can get that feeling of being in there. We call it the ‘Magic Window’ experience. It gets the product out there a lot more. So, whereas audience measurement in regular VR would measure in the thousands, this one, these types of executions, measure a great deal more. We’re trying to figure out what the audience likes and what’s going to keep them around. What I say is that, most of the time, the audience comes for live VR but they stay for some of the other things that they can do in the experience.”

In terms of the traditional linear production, Fox Sports is offering a very robust show, topping out at 24 cameras, including five super-slow-motion cameras (Sony HDC-4300’s and HDC-4800’s) and four pylon cameras positioned at the corners of each end zone.

The game will be produced by Chuck McDonald and directed by Rich Dewey, who will be stationed in the compound inside Game Creek Video’s Patriot.


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