By Steve Outing
With all the excitement caused by Google Glass, “wearable technology” has been given a big boost. I don’t think that Glass, per se, is going to transform the viewing of professional sports (then, who knows), but the shrinking size of wearable devices plus another significant trend, the ease of doing live-streamed mobile video, should have a profound influence on how we watch sports of all sorts.
Actually, Google already demonstrated live video from Google Glass in summer 2012, when Google co-founder Sergey Brin emceed a choreographed parachute-team jump to a San Francisco tech conference while a live-streamed Google Hangout video view was beamed to the crowd inside.
Sports media, and especially sports promoters, teams, and pro sports leagues, should be getting ready for a new viewer experience (and new revenue streams). Here are a few examples of what’s ahead for future sports fans. (This is going to be amazing.)
- Pro football from a player’s point of view. With tiny helmet cams, a football broadcast crew could switch the video to looking through the punter’s eyes as he kicks; or the wide receiver as he eyes the pass, reels it in, and dodges the defense on the way to the end zone. On instant replays, the producer could replay the controversial penalty call through the eyes of the offending player, or show the quarterback’s gaze as he looked for an open receiver. This would be a significant advancement in the televised coverage of professional football. … Indeed, this could be repeated in many sports where a tiny camera would not interfere with the athlete’s performance in any way: hockey; ski jumping; competitive climbing; horse jumping or racing; competitive kayaking; and on and on.
- Player POV on-demand. Eventually, we can expect to have live (or at least after-the-fact) point-of-view video from any player on the field — or driver on the racetrack — with the interactive-TV viewer able to switch views between athletes to see the action “from their eyes.” Not that this won’t be without complications, of course. For competitive reasons, football coaches might not want live player POV because it could tip off the opposing team; audio could be problematic for the same reasons. But a recorded view of the game could include players’ POV at a viewer’s command, encouraging a second watching of a game first watched live (thus, more advertisements viewed; and/or a chance to charge a fee for such a premium feature). In a NASCAR race, interactive-TV or web viewers might have the option of clicking to see through the eyes of their favorite driver, or choose from among multiple cameras on his or her car. (NASCAR has had cameras in some of its drivers’ cars for years, and provides audio from inside the cockpit as a premium service — so it already is a leader with POV video. But it has not taken the next step of allowing fans to decide which driver to look in on, on-demand and live. Serious racing fans should be willing to pay extra for the experience.)
- Ski racing and mountain-bike downhill racing. These two sports in particular will be a joy to watch when each athlete’s helmet includes a mini-video camera and live streaming. If you were watching the World Cup Downhill ski championships, or the Summer Olympics mountain bike downhill finals, would you pay a little extra to be able to view the races from the athletes’ point of view?
- Adventure sports. Many of the more dangerous, but exciting to watch, sports have tended to stay out of the media spotlight. Base jumping is typically a sport done away from crowds; ditto for serious adventure kayaking, such as dropping over high waterfalls. Videos of these exploits tend to show up on Youtube, or perhaps a sports TV or web show, after the fact. But as GoPro ably demonstrated with its sponsorship of daredevil Felix Baumgartner’s freefall from a balloon-carried space capsule, huge live audiences can be attracted to watch live adventure events. Imagine, say, allowing a web audience to pay to see through the live-video camera of a base jumper attempting a dangerous, never-done-before jump; the rest of the world could watch the video later, but there’s value in selling the video experience live when the athlete’s fete is considered to be life or death.
Who’s it for: Media, brands, or celebrities?
Sports isn’t the only area that will be impacted by a future of easy and inexpensive video live-streaming. High-profile personalities can be expected to offer their fans live-stream video of some of their activities. It might be a star quarterback live-streaming a POV video while attending an ESPN awards ceremony, or a group of actors and actresses offering their POV experience of attending the Oscars, including posing for press photographers and chatting with other celebrities. Might a good number of movie fans pay for this “inside look” into an idol’s experience? This is a great example of how individuals will be able to profit from the simplification and miniaturization of live-streaming video. (While the technology exists to do this today using a small video cam, the live-celebrity trend is likely to take off in a big way once the cameras are so small as to be unnoticeable by most people.)
The question arises, of course, whether traditional (sports and entertainment) media news outlets can get in on this future trend. The National Football League could (and perhaps will) decide to equip all players with helmet cams in order to offer a premium “Through Their Eyes” feature on NFL.com, or mobile-device apps used as a “second screen” while watching a live game on a big-screen TV. Red Bull, the No. 1 energy-drink maker, already sponsors many adventure-sport events; it could easily team up with a wearable-camera company (Google, GoPro, Garmin, Sony, etc.) to offer POV media streams itself. Red Bull, like so many other companies in the digital age, already is part media company, producing entertaining content on its own rather than relying on other media. Likewise, GoPro produces and curates action and adventure videos of daredevil athletes using its hardy cameras; it too is a significant “sports media company” in its own right, with a thriving Youtube channel and videos like this one of Jeb Corliss, badass base jumper and wingsuit pilot.
Awaiting technology advances
Small video action cameras already have significant capabilities and durability, but they’re not yet tiny enough for, say, a football player to wear during a live game. NFL teams are experimenting already, though; the New England Patriots have been putting a helmet cam on their quarterback for training sessions but not for games, for example.
Google Glass points the way to miniaturizing a mobile video and computing device, but the Glass team has a long way to go to make it useful in most professional sports. Glass also requires a Bluetooth tether to a smartphone, which is hardly an optimal set-up for professional athletes. On the other hand, NASCAR could choose today to add existing action video cams on all drivers’ cars (rather than the small number it uses today) and enable user-selected live-stream POV driver video; it would be a promising premium media feature and revenue source.
Have no doubt that miniaturization necessary for the types of uses described above is coming for wearable video and computing devices. It may still be a decade or more away, but scientists are hard at work trying to create a contact lens that can do everything that Google Glass can. (Well, not everything; it’s expected that such a digital contact lens could deliver an augmented reality experience for the user and support user commands for pulling up information or initiating another wearable device, but the contact lens-wearer would also need to have another tiny wearable camera to take care of recording or live-streaming video.)
Close to hitting the market ($399; you can pre-order now) are Epiphany Electrically Activated Sunglasses, which not only switch from regular to shaded sunglasses on-demand, but can record HD video and audio and send it via Bluetooth to a tethered smartphone. Unlike Google Glass, Epiphany glasses look like normal glasses; you won’t have to look like a geek, which is a common criticism of Google Glass’ initial version. For some sports and entertainment live-video applications, Epiphany’s look promising.
An exciting future awaits sports fans a few years from now. Most of the technology already exists today to create athlete live-stream video on-demand services. With a few exceptions like auto or boat racing, however, action video cams need to become much, much smaller. There’s little doubt that that will happen in the next few years.
It’s an appealing future for sports fans, and for sports teams, promoters, and leagues. I’m not so sure that media companies will be beneficiaries, but perhaps knowing about this trend in advance, they’ll have time to figure out how not to be left out of the next wave of sports viewing.
Main photo: via GoPro.com