NBC to Stream 2018 Winter Olympics in VR

Allies with Intel to Offer Live and On-Demand VR Sports Coverage

The countdown to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games has begun. The opening ceremony takes place on 9 February in PyeongChang, South Korea.

NBC and Intel have partnered to provide live and on-demand virtual reality (VR) sports coverage of the Olympics that viewers can access through an app. Intel has been working on the NBC Sports VR app since summer 2017 in collaboration with the Olympic Broadcasting Service, the organisation that distributes the broadcast of the games to networks like NBC. Viewers will be able to watch 30 sporting events in 360 degrees by downloading the platform. This isn’t the first time NBC has offered Olympic programming in VR, having partnered with Samsung to deliver content for the Rio 2016 event. However, on that occasion the content was available with a delay of at least one day.

The development supports our prediction that after successful trials by broadcasters, 360-degree content will achieve a breakthrough in 2018 (see CCS Insight Predictions for 2018 and Beyond). BT Sport has also shown its commitment to the technology by offering highlights and instant replays of sporting events in 360 degrees.

To deliver this coverage, Intel will deploy three to six strategically-placed 4K, stereoscopic VR cameras and will use some of its 5G components — another major technology theme at the PyeongChang Winter Games. The infrastructure will include a fleet of drones capturing events and VR viewing experiences from above.

Audiences will be able to view sports such as alpine skiing and snowboarding as well as the opening and closing ceremonies using VR hardware. Supported devices include Google Daydream, Samsung Gear VR and Windows Mixed Reality headsets. However, because of rights restrictions, the content will only be available to people in the US with a valid pay-TV subscription.

Intel’s job will be made easier as South Korea boasts the fastest broadband in the world. But the company is also seeking to boost its transmission capabilities by using the 5G demonstration network that’s going to live at the games and which is expected to offer download speeds of 100 Mbps or more.

The Olympics have a track record of not only being a venue for sporting events, but also a stage for technical trends. Enthusiasts of 360-degree material will be hoping that the VR broadcast of the games will spark wider interest in this technology. VR needs more attractive content after a lacklustre start and PyeongChang will undoubtedly help. Intel and NBC will let people around the world get a closer look at the events as well as VR technology, and that’s a positive development for immersive content.