Four Hidden Stories on Sports Video at CES 2017

I don’t have CES bona fides, but I’m sure the 2017 edition was a year not to miss. It was my most inspiring CES yet, and other attendees I spoke with seemed to agree.

The big story? A revamped event saw well-organized gatherings at the Aria, Sands, Venetian, and other locations besides the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC). Lyft, private shuttles, and the monorail seemed to have tamed the congestion a bit. And, in a surprise to some, the show floor brimmed with innovation everywhere.

These four sports stories, though, were hidden from immediate view.

1. Man-Machine-Society Interactions Are at a Tipping Point
Ever heard of #FanBoost? If not, take a note. Formula E is breaking all the rules — and ushering in the future faster than some might like. For 10 racing teams in electric-auto sports, fan engagement on social media can have a physical real-world impact on each car’s performance on the track. What a clever way to translate “home-team advantage” to digital!

Formula E is also embracing eSports in a novel way, blurring the lines between “videogames” and “advanced driving simulators.” At CES, Turner’s E-league produced the first-ever Visa Vegas E-race competition. It featured $1 million in prize money for drivers competing in a videogame, er, E-car race simulation, designed to prepare future generations of physical-world Formula E racers. (The punch line? At least one star driver came into the league as a videogamer with no real-world driving experience.)

The way Formula E is innovating in sports, social media, and gaming (both gambling and videogames) puts this league in pole position to snag the public’s imagination more broadly, transcending “auto racing” and adding color to our understanding of how culture and society are changing in the era of mobile social digital video TV.

And then there’s the tech side of that story: connectivity, telematics, gamification, multicam switching, synced live OTT streams, and real-time data Viz-rendered into AR — all very exciting domains that were in fact on display at the LVCC. (A hat tip to Ericsson, AerNow. and Net Insight.)

2. TV May Have Its Smart Mojo Back, But It’s Too Early To Tell
For years, we’ve seen TV manufacturers boost efforts to connect directly with their retail users by leveraging their truly beautiful hardware. But clunky low-quality attempts, insufficient content tiles (apps, channels, whatever), and lack of monetization infrastructure have prevented OTT from truly transforming TV.

Samsung’s Sports TV Sports service offers potential to transform TV.

Samsung’s Sports TV Sports service offers potential to transform TV.

But, when the Samsung rep pulled up the poorly named Sports TV Sports service (app, channel, EPG, whatever), the responsiveness, design, and content brands made an impact on me. Have they finally realized the potential of a next-gen video-input switch?

Before I go further, let me be clear: it’s a good, not great tile (app, service, channel, whatever). But this green shoot is on the road to TV-transformation stardom. If Samsung can stick at it and give this team a few years of runway with some kind of multi-year “innovation” budget, it will drive billions in market-cap growth.

LG also deserves kudos for sticking with its slick and responsive webOS framework, bringing a third major update to the CES 2017 party. LG can be forgiven for not having a sports app, since it was the belle of the ball with its OLED Wallpaper TV.

On the other hand, none of the giants are sleeping. DISH, Xfinity, and DirecTV — not to mention Sling, PlayStation Vue, and others — are aggressively building out their consumer-facing Sports TV experiences. We don’t know whether Samsung will be able to nurture this sprout into success. Large companies have a difficult time giving small teams the necessary multi-year runways needed for disruptive innovation.

In the meantime, TV sellers like Hisense are smartly jumping on the Roku OS to enable a tile (app, channel, aggregator, whatever) ecosystem that can do the very same thing: take ownership over a slice of the consumer sports-TV experience, where personalization, companion-device services, and monetization infrastructure will usher in expanded economic opportunities for sports writ large.

This is the crux of the battle for the future of TV.

Who’ll own the big-screen–content navigational experience? And how?

TV isn’t dead. Not by a long shot.

3. 2017 Is the Year VR Gets Re-Framed as a Broader Visual Story
When it comes to visual-information density, screen size matters — and yes, bigger is better, and VR is massive. But VR is a bit far out there, and I missed it, to be honest. But VR, AR, 360 video, and massive flat screens capable of sophisticated picture-in-picture and multiview experiences seem like birds of a feather to me. They’re all about enabling a fatter audio/visual bitpipe to our brains.

When you walk into a sports bar, a production-control room, or a movie theater for that matter, you immediately understand the power of our visual systems to absorb more information than a single TV, even if it’s 65 in.

That’s why I was excited to get a tour of the brand-new Hopper 3 Sports Bar Mode multiview from DISH. Independently controllable screen quadrants, with different live games laid out on a big, beautiful screen a couple of feet away? I’m hooked.

4. Sensors Everywhere Enable the Gamification of Sports, Health, and Fitness
Call it wearables, IoT, or digital health, the Sands Expo Hall A-D was filled with sporting goods, fitness equipment. and other sensor-based IoT roadside attractions on a journey toward a bionic society. This wave of IoT and wearable tech will open new possibilities to leverage our screens to nurture addictive habits that are physically healthful. For example, can we amp up the gamification element in youth sports to encourage physical participation and greater long-term engagement?

MLB has proved that fascinating stats like Exit Velocity are amazing storytelling innovations. There’s no reason that data can’t also be harnessed to make batting cages more fun, and our trip to the gym more socially connected and rewarding.

If we can tie in athletes and teams into these new experiences, we can nudge society into better health outcomes. That sounds like a big story to me.

Whether it hits next year or next decade, only time will tell. Either way, CES 2017 had something to do with it.

Password must contain the following:

A lowercase letter

A capital (uppercase) letter

A number

Minimum 8 characters