The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia was a watershed tournament for so many reasons.
England. Penalties. Sweden. Croatia. Oh, and did someone mention VAR? Imagine if THAT had been around in 1966…
But buried in the tub-thumping statistics from the BBC – 43m here, 37m there – is a little piece of history that could, with time, prove to be a real game-changer.
The corporation broke new ground with a VR app that allowed viewers to watch games as if they were sat in a studio like pundits. Thank goodness Robbie Savage was on the radio.
A total of 400,000 people downloaded the BBC World Cup VR app, showing that so far the acorns are still small in comparison to traditional TV screens.
And let’s get something out of the way early on. Watching the World Cup on a 55” screen is flippin’ great. It’s still king, and will be for some time.
But there was a time when listening on BBC Radio was king. Then it was black and white TV. Then colour. Then HD…
I’m not saying we’ll all be strapping on VR headsets to watch the World Cup in Qatar in 2022, but the fact that the BBC has dipped its toe in the VR pond should have us sitting up and taking notice.
So was the BBC World Cup VR app any good?
First all, a headset or Google Cardboard proved to be a must. Waving a smartphone about to watch VR is all well and good, but it’s also frankly ridiculous. The app actually worked on a range of devices, including Playstation VR, Oculus Go, Samsung Gear and iOS.
Alongside the main view inside a virtual ‘studio’, users could also choose to watch the game behind one of the goals. Free kicks and all. These views could be switched at a moment’s notice – a bit like running from the main stand to the Kop to watch a penalty. But immediate.
In the corner of the screen, users were given a nifty view of the TV stream, with commentary, that synced perfectly with the main VR screen.
Remember, with a headset this was all deeply immersive. No distractions. No mobile phone. Not even a dog to shout at when England went out on penalties. Except they didn’t, of course.
Other sports have been doing this for some time. The NFL broadcasts the Super Bowl in VR, while Fox Sports did something similar for the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
The BBC, typically, bided its time and made the World Cup VR app far more user-friendly and to be honest, less cramped. Controls were better too, especially with the Playstation VR.
The reviews are mixed.
Our CEO Ben Smith and VP of Strategy Alex Kunawicz used to work at BBC Sport. Here is what they think of the BBC’s World Cup VR app.
CEO of Laduma, Ben Smith, says: “The content isn’t necessarily delivering an outstanding experience as yet and I am sure the BBC would admit that, but 400,000 downloads shows the interest is there
“That is really interesting for brands and companies looking to get involved. The audience is there and we’ve seen that in black and white, so it is something worth considering if you are thinking about getting involved in the immersive technology space.”
Alex Kunawicz, Vice President of Strategy at Laduma, adds: “I can have a much better experience watching games on television, but I think there is a novelty factor for some people.
“As far as VR and football is concerned, I am a much bigger fan of watching highlights after the event. You can see goals from all sorts of angles, so I think highlights in VR totally works for me, but watching entire games not so much. I think 400,000 downloads is an incredible number for the VR app.”
Craig Grannell, from Stuff.TV, says: “Don’t expect miracles, because we’re not yet living in the future. But BBC Sport VR at least points to it, and tries something different from countless apps that merely give you stats, scores, and a few dull video highlights to prod and play.”
Endgadget, meanwhile, is a little less positive: “Regardless of who makes the experience, it’s a little ridiculous to expect folks to strap a VR helmet to their face in the middle of summer though – at least the Super Bowl is in January.”
But Coolsmartphone.com reckons the BBC was spot on in creating a VR app that laid the groundwork for years to come: “This is V1 of the solution and it is fantastic but there is room for evolution.
“On the PSVR the streaming action could be a little resolution boost and what a great opportunity to create a social VR experience by inviting your mates to join you virtually watch the game. I’m absolutely sure these things will come in time but what a great ‘starter for ten’ the BBC have given us.”
Those clever bods at the Beeb have broken new ground and for that they should be applauded. For the 2018 World Cup, this was a watershed. And there wasn’t a Gazza in sight.