Interview: Christof Haslauer of NativeWaves on the role of augmented reality in live sports

News & Media

Portrait of Christof Haslauer

By Jo Ruddock
Thursday, July 13, 2023

Read the Original article on SVG Europe here

With the recent announcement of Apple’s Vision Pro generating excitement around how viewers will consume content, including live sports, in the future, Christof Haslauer, CEO and co-founder of NativeWaves, shares his thoughts on how AR could impact sports broadcasting and why the future may not be as far off as we think.

When Apple introduced the Vision Pro spatial computer at its Worldwide Developers Conference last month, many industries started thinking about the impact it could have for them. With its promise of blending digital content with a user’s physical space, bringing sporting events into people’s living rooms and offering ways to make them part of the action, its potential to transform how live sport is consumed seemed clear.

This was particularly the case for Christof Haslauer at NativeWaves, who was already thinking along the same lines as those developers at Apple.

“We’ve been waiting for this,” he enthuses, “because we are already doing these types of things where we want to extend the content, make the content more interactive, more personalised, and also experiment with a lot of different content pieces, such as different video camera angles and data overlays on multiple devices, on smart TVs and mobile phones. But what we were really thinking was that it would be so cool if finally those devices exist for AR and VR to make this even more natural and more extensive.”

AR/VR headsets have, of course, been around in various forms for some time but they have failed to capture the imagination of users on any kind of scale. So what makes Vision Pro different?

“For me the biggest differentiation is that they [Apple] really fine-tuned a lot of different aspects,” he continues. “They have a full concept and also it feels like a really polished product. What Apple did so far is to make it feel much more seamless and immersed, but I still think that there are a lot of steps that need to be taken to really hit the mainstream market.”

“I like the pass through with the eyes,” Haslauer adds. “It for sure takes a lot of effort to do this. Even though a lot of people think it looks weird, I think it makes this key difference that could make it feel much more natural compared to the other products.”

The old adage ‘content is king’ continues to be relevant, however, and if the content isn’t available to entice viewers in, they simply won’t see the benefit of such headsets, no matter how well they’re designed.

“I’m not going to invest 2000 euros or more just to get a headset that I then can’t do anything with,” says Haslauer. “So I think content plays the crucial piece. But still the devices need to be there and the ecosystem around how to build applications and so on. Because in the end, that’s the difference between a one-time POC or an experiment, versus creating a product that actually adds value day by day, or for each sports event that’s going to be shown.”

Crucially, though, that content could look very different, with more camera angles and more tailored information available at the touch of a button.

“We are already trying to move away from the more traditional approach of linear television and think about which content actually adds value and what people actually want,” he continues. “Coming from the original challenge that in traditional television everybody gets the same feed, because there’s just one signal that everybody watches, we want to create this personalisation aspect. We want to give people the choice of different camera angles, but also we want them to be able to simply jump into additional information.

“If I’m late to the start of the football game that I’m watching on television, I have no clue what the line-up looks like. So, it becomes bothersome for me to access that information. The question is why is it not already there and why can I not access this information directly on my smart TV or mobile device when I am watching the game? I think this is where a tight integration between data, but also audio and video, really needs to come together to make a compelling end user experience.”

The exciting part is that this hyper-personalised, intuitive user experience may not be as far off as some people think.

“I believe it’s not so far away, because we’re already doing a lot of this stuff, but I think there’s a lot of change that needs to happen, such as how broadcasters and existing streaming platforms think about the content, because it feels to me that it’s still quite stuck from a broadcaster perspective,” he says. “There’s always a lot of investment in adding an additional camera, or drone camera or some other tech on the production side, but it never reaches the end user.

“And, actually, if you just think about stuff like helmet cams and dynamic cams, and now we have 5G mobile phones that can take pictures, all of this can be joined together and delivered to the end user device. This is what we’re already trying to do. Basically, we’re trying to look at all the content that is being produced and see how we can put it together in a meaningful way, so the user can say, ‘I don’t want to watch the main broadcast feed, but I want to watch the goalkeeper’s perspective when there’s a penalty kick’ or ‘I want to watch the drone camera’. And suddenly I connect with all the innovations that are happening in a production space and bring all of those to an end-user perspective. It’s also about packaging it so it’s meaningful – that is the user doesn’t need to scroll through 100 cameras but can find a very natural way to interact with the content.”

AR could provide this more natural means of engaging with content, offering more space to browse than on a mobile device but without needing a remote control as would be the case with a TV.

“With AR I can simply look at different content, there’s much more space available to me, so I think it makes it much easier to navigate through content and get to the content information faster. AR can bridge the gap between TVs and mobile devices and make it very immersive,” he says.

So, if this device and others like it do hit the mainstream, how will this impact sports broadcasters and how can they prepare for this personalised, immersive future?

“I think a good starting point would be to move a bit more in that direction now with the devices that we have,” Haslauer suggests. “What we’re seeing and what we’re trying, it makes a big difference if you can experience such a multiview experience on your different devices already. And prepare your user base to move a bit more in the digital age. We hear broadcasters asking how they can reach younger audiences and how they can make it more exciting. I think this is now a starting point because the content is already there, it’s being produced. So what you simply need to do is take them to it. We also have the technology to deliver it now, to mobile devices, smart TV, desktop. So have a strong content strategy and say, ‘Okay, what can we do in live sports to start with existing devices and have amazing experiences’. Then, as soon as AR and VR hits, they’ll be ready for that because nothing changes in production or stream delivery, and they’ll still need something that runs on the front end side. It’s basically just a different way of visualising this for the AR space.”

He concludes: “For me, it’s really about how can we help broadcasters and streaming platforms to take their existing content to the devices that are available, and to tell them the technology’s there and it’s already possible. That way the step between this and then having a future proof solution for AR/VR is actually much smaller on the technology side, because you have already got the technical infrastructure and everything to deliver those experiences.”

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