Published: Sep 18, 2019
Updated: Oct 15, 2019

How Technology is Changing Live Entertainment and Fan Experiences

Author: Ed Schmit

Concert fan wearing mixed-reality goggles

Why go to the movies or a baseball game when you can experience it from the comfort of your own home instead? The right tech makes it easier than ever before.

Ed SchmitAuthor: Ed Schmit, AVP Product Marketing Management, AT&T Developer Program

Ed tracks new technologies for the AT&T Developer Program. His specialties include network technologies, technology enablement, and strategic marketing.

As the technology used to create the content we watch evolved, so did the way we accessed the content. Film gave way to videocassettes and DVDs; over-the-air TV broadcasts turned into cable and now into fiber optic or Internet TV. We stream movies and TV shows. We play video games in virtual reality (VR) and chase lots of Pokémon around our cities in augmented reality (AR). Entertainers perform as avatars and holograms — a Tupac hologram appeared at Coachella in 2012, while the late Roy Orbison went on a global tour in 2018, and Madonna performed with five avatars of herself at the 2019 Billboard Music Awards.

Today, we can attend concerts and sporting events virtually and feel like we’re in the stadium or on the sidelines. Fox Sports VR lets fans experience the FIFA World Cup, NFL Super Bowl, and more as if they were in the stadium. Sansar partnered with the Overwatch League to provide an enhanced VR experience for esports enthusiasts. Fans can watch live league matches, enter the teams’ virtual arenas and clubhouses, participate in virtual meet-and-greets with their favorite players, and more.

Digital technology is changing the way content is created and consumed. People can watch and participate in any event they want without actually being there. But is it really the same thing? Is attending an event in VR going to provide the same level of engagement and excitement as being there live?

A March Towards Realism

It will, as long as the technology continues to evolve and provides a more “realistic” or immersive experience. That’s the holy grail of VR/AR experiences: to create a fully immersive experience so users cannot tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not.

Today’s digital realism is powered by VR. Developers work within the bounds of existing technology to craft high-fidelity scenes and binaural audio, so people feel fully immersed. The devices they’re using (headsets, headphones, etc.) are getting better and sharper, so they transmit a more “real” experience.  — which leaves people wanting more.

One of the pioneers in this quest for realism is NextVR. NextVR is a world leader in live event broadcasting in VR. They’ve patented technology that delivers an immersive VR experience to viewers in the simplest way possible: all viewers need is a VR headset and their app. By partnering with leaders in sports and entertainment, such as the NBA, WWE, Live Nation, and the International Champions Cup, NextVR can broadcast a wide variety of content in a unique way that captures the essence of realism.

These VR experiences let fans from around the world get a front-row seat to a live event, whether it’s sports, a music concert, or comedy show. Using Oculus Venues and NextVR, attendees see avatars of other VR attendees sitting next to you, and you can even chat with them, hearing their discussions as if you were in the audience together.

VR/AR turns live music concerts into an authentic experience

With VR, a music concert becomes an experience where you get a multi-camera experience in the venue. Some shows also give you a backstage pass so you can see what the artist is doing before they arrive on stage. LiveNation’s partnership with NextVR and Oculus Venues has let them put on VR concerts for Lady Antebellum, Imagine Dragons, Third Eye Blind, Slash, and more.

Using VR for music festivals

Others are using VR to create virtual music festivals people can attend from wherever they are. That’s what High Fidelity did with their FUTVRE LANDS virtual reality festival last year. Powered by their open-source VR platform that can support up to 500 users at a time, FUTVRE LANDS virtual attendees listened to four hours of live entertainment in the virtual festival grounds, which housed four stage areas, a marketplace, and portals to other domains created by High Fidelity’s users.

Using AR in live music

U2’s most recent world tour, Experience + Innocence, used sophisticated technology to provide an unique experience for their fans. The show included an AR experience where the audience opened a U2 app on their smartphones, pointed it at the video screen, and watched as images morphed from a static one into a dynamic one. As the band played Love is All We Have Left, the audience experienced a 3D AR version of lead singer Bono reaching out of the screen.

At another point in the concert, audience members using the app saw a digital image morph into an iceberg that melted over the audience, water gushing from the screen seemingly onto the audience. “Total immersion is our gig, and I guess AR just helps,” Bono told CNN in an interview about the technology used on the tour. If nothing else, U2 is solving the problem of audiences watching live concerts with their smartphones in the air, by engaging them with AR experiences and keeping them in the moment.

Immersive experiences bring sports fans closer to the game

The VR and AR experience is shaping sports media too, creating new fan engagement opportunities for teams and leagues. Fans can use it to interact with their favorite teams, players, and brand sponsors in new ways.

Baseball’s immersive experiences

The MLB Ballparks app complements a fan’s visit to an MLB park with VR and AR content. They can access interactive concourse maps and directories for the parks, access pitch videos in realistic 3D renderings of selected MLB ballparks, and get player stats by pointing their smartphone cameras at the field and “seeing” pertinent real-time data based on who’s on base or on the field. It’s available for both Android and iOS smartphones.

Virtex Arena is a new AR app that is hoping to help with the pace-of-play and keep fans engaged with the on-field product. “When you go to the game, during breaks people are texting or browsing Twitter and ESPN,” the app’s founder and developer, Jeff Green told SportTechie. With Virtex Arena, fans could play virtual baseball with player avatars running out onto the field during the breaks in life play. While not currently licensed to use official MLB logos and team names, Green is confident the product will be a hit with both fans and clubs. He knows that if MLB buys in to his product, it could be a key tool for teams to increase engagement with fans. “Put the action and the leaderboard up on the big screen and mass engagement will follow,” Green said to SportTechie.

Basketball’s immersive experiences

The NBA developed an AR game for their fans where they can sink 3-point shots in their favorite arena from the comfort of their own homes. NBA fans can customize the court they see in the game and then use a flicking motion to sink baskets like their favorite players. Fans can also experience games in mixed reality (MR) using the Magic Leap One headset and NBA app.

Special sports events immersive experiences

NBC partnered with Intel during the 2018 Olympic Winter Games to present 50+ hours of VR coverage for a variety of devices and platforms. Coverage spanned every day of the games and was available to pay-TV subscribers in the US through the NBC Sports VR app.

WWE launched a VR initiative in partnership with NextVR to bring fans inside the ring with up-close VR highlight recaps of select WWE events. Each recap is available free after the PPV event on the WWE NextVR channel. “It’s an incredible fan-engagement opportunity,” Michelle Wilson, WWE’s chief revenue and marketing officer told Variety. “We’re going to provide these amazing, oh-my-god moments in VR.” “WWE is amazing in VR, and we know fans are going to love it,” said David Cole, NextVR CEO.

The Future is Virtual

Digital technology is providing both artists, athletes, and fans with unique opportunities.

Fans will be able to experience fully-immersive events alongside their favorite artists, sports, and teams, for a fraction of the cost. VR offers them the opportunity to participate in these experiences when the constantly-rising ticket prices lock them out. A virtual experience will be the next best thing, without the parking hassles, the bad seat views, and travel to get to the venue.

Major artists will be able to use VR to bring their art to a larger audience but also use AR and MR to create a unique experience for those who are watching them in-person. Smaller artists, creators, and venue owners will be able to share their content with wider audiences, thereby increasing their revenues in ways they couldn’t before. They can use the same technology as the major artists to create unique experiences for their audiences as well, driving their own creativity to areas they never thought possible.

As immersive technology evolves, content and experiences will change too, creating unique opportunities and experiences for everyone involved in live events. We should all be excited to see what comes next.


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