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Focal Point VR demonstrates the power of the VR experience with a live production from the IMG Champions Tennis

Best viewed live and in high definition, sport has long been considered immune from many of the pressures facing linear TV. However, young people are switching off from TV sport as part of a drop in average audiences of nearly a tenth in six years, analysts have claimed.

Recent research by Ampere Analysis found that 18 to 24-year-olds, the younger end of the so-called ‘millennial’ age group, were 17% less likely to identify sport as their favourite form of programming than the general population.

At the same time viewing figures for TV sport are down on both sides of the Atlantic. It has been widely reported in the US that broadcast audiences for NFL matches have dropped across all major networks while UK sports channels, including Sky Sports, BT Sport and Eurosport reveals 2016 average weekly viewing is down by 9% compared to 2010

The data should ring alarm bells for pay-TV operators that rely on sport as the main draw for subscribers.

Ampere suggested that the rise of online streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube, as well as social media, was providing stronger competition for young people’s attention.

This should come as no surprise. As a demographic, millennials have become accustomed to being more in control over how and when they consume TV content and, as a result, streaming services have grown in popularity with this audience more than any other.

“With an ageing fan base, broadcasters must get their eyes back on the ball if they are to retain – and grow – this highly desirable audience,” says the analyst.

There is a way in which sports rights holders and live event content owners can innovate a way out of the impasse.

Streaming an event live in 360° to smartphone apps and virtual reality headsets offers a fundamentally different experience and what’s more, one that puts the viewer in control.

“VR video offers a genuine alternative way of consuming video,” says Ian Baverstock, Co-Founder, Focal Point VR. “It is different from conventional video recording in the way people perceive it. You lose some advantages of editing and action replay and the ability to zoom in and out of a picture. In effect, you lose the directed experience. But what you get in return is a feeling of authenticity and presence which is of tremendous appeal to a cynical youth audience who don’t value content served when someone else is in control.”

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Instead of being mediated through someone else’s perspective, VR is about being live and present at the event.

“It’s about having the freedom to look around and see what is really going on,” says Baverstock. “Offering consumers, and especially millennials, the chance to be part of something live yet under their own control is extremely valuable.”

To help prove the point, this week’s matches from the IMG Champions Tennis, including the final on Sunday December 4, are being live streamed in 360-degrees to a specially created app available to a select audience of broadcasters, sponsors and technologists.

The season ending finale of the ATP Champions Tour features some of the greatest players ever including John McEnroe and Pat Rafter competing indoors in front of a packed house in the awe-inspiring Royal Albert Hall.

Viewers will be able to switch between multiple streams for different perspectives on the live action much as they would access a Red Button on TV but all without leaving the VR stream.

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“We are not editorialising in any way,” explains Paul James, Co-Founder and Head of Production. “This is a viewer-based experience where they are the editor. The viewer makes the decision about when and where they want to watch. Our role is to make sure that when consumers do come to VR for the first time they experience such a ‘Wow’ that they will want to return for more.”

The event is also a prime opportunity to experiment with various aspects of what is still an emerging technology. Three different rigs will be arrayed around the court ranging from a stereo pair for 3D capture, a GoPro mounted rig for output to YouTube and a high-end system comprising three Blackmagic Micro Studio Camera 4K outputting dual streams of 4K and 6K.

Signals from the latter configuration will be fed into Focal Point VR’s own encoding, stitching and packing solution and delivered [by content delivery network/over the internet] to the app and also to an embeddable HTML5 player.

Longer term, the ability to share the experience with friends and family will be essential to the success of live VR. Developments by companies including Facebook are already working to crack the issue by introducing avatars and voice into the live feed.

“Ultimately you want to be able to share the experience of attending an event virtually with a member of your family who may live many miles away. While this capability is unlikely to be available in the first commercial launches of VR, the technology will soon offer the chance for both of you to teleport to the same experience. A step even beyond that is to enhance the ability to move around within and interact with the VR world, for example by being able to point rather than just look. Our technology allows broadcasters to engage with consumers on a completely new level.”

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So that was 2016. A really busy year for us and, we hope, a successful one for you too.

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Have a great holiday. We’ll be back with more updates in the New Year.
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tennisFocal Point VR successfully completed the live streaming of the Champions Tennis from the Royal Albert Hall. The project included several firsts for UK sport broadcasting as well as for Focal Point VR.

The live stream featured multiple cameras, each streaming in multiple formats simultaneously to both a proprietary Focal Point VR app over a Content Delivery Network and to YouTube. The combination of Black Magic based VR rigs and Focal Point VR’s optimisation technology allowedviewers to experience the event in 6k UHD.

A VR video (so headset highly recommended) of highlights of the match between Ferreira vs McEnroe can be viewed here:

The playback was available on headsets, an HTML5 microsite and via YouTube. Using Focal Point VR’s custom app for Android offered the highest quality stream as well as real time, gaze control enacted, viewer camera selection between the different cameras. There was also viewer selectable resolution/bitrate to allow for bandwidth variation amongst different users.

Paul James, Focal Point’s Head of Production, said “Working with IMG and the Royal Albert Hall teams to live stream the Champions Tennis was a great opportunity to explore the impact of VR cinematography and production techniques for streaming. It’s an intrinsically different set of problems to normal 2D television production and the team responded fantastically as new insights were learnt at the event.”

Three cameras separately streaming live, in multiple formats and to multiple destinations was also a new area for Streaming Tank and Webcast Sport, our broadcast partners on this project. The dramatically different implications of the medium for live events are starting to become clear.

The Net Camera was surprisingly compact and offered a new experience to viewers.

The Corner Camera (which affectionately became known as the Ball Girl camera) lived up to the dream of really giving the viewer a strong sense of ‘presence’. With over 180º of action delivered using the Focal Point VR proprietary stereo streaming rig.

Finally the Baseline camera, in a more traditional TV camera position provided a less immersive experience compared to the Net and Corner cameras.

In conclusion, the ability to position VR cameras in less traditional places significantly increases the feeling of involvement for the viewers.

For each camera, the lack of cameraman and need to move the camera, its compact size and remote operation opened up new possibilities over traditional broadcast. Once the cameras were in place, the lack of need for an on site production and direction team also surprised many people and really brought home to everyone involved the user directed viewing that was being offered. VR video really is moving to a more authentic viewing experience with viewers more directly involved in the action. The entire projected reiterated the need to share best practice around VR video production. The Royal Albert Hall team, in particular, were great partners as they rapidly adapted their usual processes to accommodate the new medium.

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Focal Point VR partnered with Webcast Sport and Streaming Tank to deliver this VR stream.

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The Champions Tennis tournament organised by IMG is the season ending finale to the ATP Champions Tour. Former Grand Slam Champions, World No.1’s and national icons compete in one of London’s most famous and iconic venues.

Focal Point VR will be running multiple VR streams from the season ending finale to the ATP tour on Sunday 4th December. The streams can be viewed in VR headsets by downloading the Champions Tennis VR cardboard app from the Google Play store (which is being distributed as a closed beta app). For those with Gear VR headsets please use Sideload VR.

 

Focal Point VR will be running three concurrent streams, a UHD 6k full 360 stream from the organists chair position, an HD netpost cam and a stereo court cam. Viewers using the Champions Tennis VR apps will be able to swap between the VR rigs using gaze control.

Focal Point VR will also be streaming the event to this YouTube channel once the first match starts.

Details of how to view the finals in VR can be found at www.championstennis360.live.

Champions Tennis VR Live Stream Schedule

Sunday 4th December

11:30am        ATP Champions Tour Final
followed by   Bahrami/TBC vs Penfors/TBC

4pm              Forget v McEnroe
followed by   Leconte/TBC v El Aynaoui/TBC

(times are GMT)

The Champions Tennis tournament organised by IMG is the season ending finale to the ATP Champions Tour. Former Grand Slam Champions, World No.1’s and national icons compete in one of London’s most famous and iconic venues.

Focal Point VR announces that it will stream the finals of the Champions Tennis from the Royal Albert Hall, London in Virtual Reality. The VR broadcast of the matches is scheduled to start at 11:30am GMT Sunday 4th December.

The Champions Tennis VR stream from Focal Point VR will feature a viewer controllable multi-camera POV and an ultra high definition 6k VR livestream.

Jonathan Newth, Focal Point VR’s CEO, said “The ability of VR Video to ‘teleport’ the media consumer to another place live represents an entirely new paradigm for video. Focal Point VR are proud to be at the leading edge of delivering this exciting and technically challenging innovation.”

 

The Champions Tennis VR livestream is the first major sporting event powered by the Focal Point VR Stream Processor, featuring live stitching, live video/graphics mixing and a proprietary resolution optimisation system. The Stream Processor is complemented by Focal Point VR’s optimised Android/Gear VR and html5 players, providing remote viewers with the highest quality immersive VR experience.”

Focal Point VR is partnering with Webcast Sport and Streaming Tank to deliver this VR stream.

Webcast Sport is a new business based on over 70 years of television experience. Our aim is to bring sport that is under represented on our televisions to the laptops, tablets and smartphones of the fans. We are excited to be partnering with Focal Point VR to bring the Champions Tennis from the RAH to you in 360º VR. Kevin Magee, MD of Webcast Sport, says “This partnership represents how we see the televising of sport progressing; online, on demand and using cutting edge technology to put you in the best seat in the house.”

Streaming Tank produce and broadcast live video content to destinations including websites, mobile devices, apps, secure intranets, social media channels, out-of-home screens and more.

Champions Tennis VR Live Stream Schedule

Sunday 4th December

11:30am        ATP Champions Tour Final
followed by   Bahrami/TBC vs Penfors/TBC

4pm              Forget v McEnroe
followed by   Leconte/TBC v El Aynaoui/TBC

(times are GMT)

The Champions Tennis tournament organised by IMG is the season ending finale to the ATP Champions Tour. Former Grand Slam Champions, World No.1’s and national icons compete in one of London’s most famous and iconic venues.

 

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tom121st September 2016.

Focal Point VR, a pioneer in the field of live 360° Virtual Reality video, today announced the appointment of Tom Gambill as Director of Research, further strengthening the team’s graphics expertise.

Gambill is an expert in modern 3D graphics systems and has developed rendering technology for prominent computer game companies like Electronic Arts. Most recently he co-developed a high-end naval training simulation for Havok and Microsoft.

“Tom brings exactly the mix of research experience and deep knowledge of state-of-the-art GPU technology that we need to tackle the challenges of live VR video,” said Jonathan Newth, CEO of Focal Point VR.

Gambill said of his new position “As Director of Research, I look forward to building a team to address the challenges of delivering the highest possible quality VR video to the full spectrum of VR headsets. As VR hardware rapidly advances, traditional approaches to delivering VR video, especially live, will quickly be insufficient. I’m really excited to bring my years of experience developing and optimising algorithms for modern GPUs to this new field.”

Focal Point VR’s technology enables an audience to ‘see’ and interact with each other (via avatars) within an interactive, 360° live-streaming video experience – bringing participants together via a shared presence in the same live event and enhancing the immersiveness of VR.

Focal Point VR’s platform features proprietary region of interest optimisation technology that supports high resolution VR video (up to an effective 6k) whilst reducing data sizes by a factor of 3X to 5X, reducing data costs and increasing the addressable market.

In addition to a live streaming platform, Focal Point VR shoots and processes 360° video for playback on VR headsets or browsers. It also develops VR apps for a range of headsets and devices.

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IBC 20166th September 2016. Guildford, Surrey, UK. Focal Point VR will attend IBC to debut its high quality, virtual reality (VR) 360° live-streaming platform for broadcasters.

Focal Point VR’s technology enables an audience to ‘see’ and interact with each other (via avatars) within an interactive, 360° live-streaming video experience – bringing participants together via a shared presence in the same live event and enhancing the immersiveness of VR.

Focal Point VR’s platform features a proprietary region of interest optimisation technology which supports high resolution VR video (up to an effective 6k) whilst reducing data sizes by a factor of 3x–>5x, reducing data costs and increasing the addressable market.

Focal Point VR’s high quality camera-to-headset integrated platform features

• Support for better than broadcast quality 6k VR camera system
• Fully cross-platform player with gaze control
• Live multi-camera view streams
• Shared experience
• Embeddable HTML5 player

In addition, the company’s VR video processor offers:

• 360 degree ads and interstitials
• Live edit suite
• Region of interest optimisation
• YouTube 360 Stream option

Jonathan Newth, CEO of Focal Point VR said, “We believe that some of the most compelling VR experiences will come from being able to virtually attend live events surrounded by friends and family. Our technology allows broadcasters to engage with consumers on a completely new level.”

For a demo visit Focal Point VR at IBC in Hall 8, booth 8.B31.

Focal Point VR will deliver broadcast quality, live-streaming of events to all major head-mounted VR displays including the Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Google cardboard, PlayStation VR and others – offering users an immersive and interactive experience at events anywhere in the world.

Click HERE to see a clip of a recent VR livestream delivered to YouTube by Focal Point VR.

In addition to a live streaming platform Focal Point VR shoots and processes 360° video for playback on VR headsets or browses. It also develops VR apps for a range of headsets and devices.

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9th June 2016.  Guildford, Surrey, UK.  Focal Point VR today announced that it has successfully raised Seed finance from a group of leading business angels with expertise in technology, media and entertainment.

Investors include Simon Muderack (Angel Investor and M.D. at Sigma Systems) John Chasey (Investor and Operations Director of TVR Automotive), Jez San (Angel Investor and CEO of PKR.com) and Chris Wilks (CFO of Signum Technology).

Jonathan Newth, CEO of Focal Point VR said, “We’re delighted to have such a knowledgeable and successful group of investors on board. With Seed funding now in place we’ll be ramping up our in-house capacity and demonstrate our live streaming technology at a wide range of events and venues.”

John Chasey, Operations Director of TVR Automotive added, “Virtual Reality and 360 video are clearly in an area with enormous potential. The founders of Focal Point VR have a fantastic track record in building successful technology and creative businesses and I am very excited to be involved in their new venture. From a professional perspective I believe Virtual Reality has a transformational role to play in motor-sport and I look forward to working with the new technology within TVR.”

A teaser 360 video, produced by Focal Point VR, of Tiff Needell trying to sneak under cover of the new TVR can be seen here.

The key advantage of Focal Point’s technology is high quality shared VR Video live streams with highly optimised bandwidth use to addressing a major obstacle that broadcasters face as VR Video grows in popularity.

Focal Point VR delivers broadcast quality, live-streaming of events to all major head-mounted VR displays including the Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Google cardboard and others, offering users an immersive and interactive experience at events anywhere in the world.

The founders of Focal Point VR include Julian Davis, formerly CTO of Geomerics, which was recently acquired by ARM; Paul James, Jonathan Newth and Ian Baverstock who have built several successful video games and technology companies together.

The company is currently in negotiations to livestream a wide variety of events and venues, with announcements due during 2016.

In addition to a live streaming platform Focal Point VR shoots and processes 360° video for playback on VR headsets or in a browser, and develops VR apps for a range of headsets and devices.

 

Media Inquiries to: 

Alison Beasley, Lincoln Beasley PR. E: alison@lincolnbeasley.co.uk

 

About Focal Point VR

Focal Point VR provides technology to deliver interactive and social, livestreaming of events in virtual reality, creates world-class virtual reality video experiences and developer custom virtual reality applications. The company was founded by experienced entrepreneurs from the video games and technology industries who will apply their interactive expertise to create compelling and immersive VR experiences.

 

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Focal Point VR ran a VR livestream of the keynote and other selected sessions from VR World Congress #VRWC16 on Tuesday 12th April. Remote viewers were teleported to the front row of the VR World Congress main track via a custom VR viewer produced by Focal Point VR for the conference. (VR World Congress Live in VR, available on the Play Store and via SideloadVR)

We will be making the sessions available as VR livestream catch up via the same app on Mon 18th of April for a limited period of time. For further news follow us @focalpointvr

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Focal Point VR and Opposable Group are very pleased to announce that sessions from VR World Congress will be streamed live in VR from the conference on Tue 12th April 2016.

700 attendees will be packing out the Bristol Marriott City Centre, all looking to learn about and try the latest in virtual reality. For those who can not attend the event live, selected sessions will be livestreamed in VR using Focal Point VR’s livestream platform.

Sessions can be experienced in VR using a custom viewer app ‘VR World Congress Live in VR’ app created by Focal Point VR. The app is available for Google Cardboard and for the Gear VR; the app also hosts a selection of recorded 360 video content from last years conference. Details of how to download the app for Gear VR and Google Cardboard(Android), along with updates on the livestream session schedule can be found at http://focalpointvr.com