Sky launches 360-degree television app for virtual reality age
Sky has launched a 360-degree virtual reality TV service that it hopes will kickstart a new way of watching sport, news and entertainment.
The service, initially available through a free new Sky VR app, has 27 films on launch with more promised. It can be viewed on a phone by moving the device around or by using an assisted virtual reality headset, such as Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR.
The broadcaster says that it is to invest in original programming for the format. This includes sport, from boxing and cycling to Formula 1 and English Premier League football.
The first tranches of content released include ‘Star Wars: Red Carpet’, ‘Anthony Joshua – Becoming World Champion’ and clips from Disney’s ‘The Jungle Book’.
Sky is to broadcast parts of the US elections in November in the format, too.
“The production community have fallen in love with this idea,” said Gary Davey, head of content at Sky. “I thought we'd have to push this for a long time for them to embrace it. But we're finding that everyone, including Hollywood studios, are inviting us into sets.”
He said that Sky intends to incorporate the technology into shooting the broadcaster’s Italian television series thriller, Gomorra.
“It’s shot in the back street of Naples, you'll be literally looking over your shoulder when you’re watching,” said Davey.
Other pieces released right away on the app include a Sky News report into the refugee crisis at Calais and a behind-the-scenes look at a WIlliams Formula 1 pit lane.
He said that the technology would eventually come to Premier League football but there was no date set yet.
“We’ve already done a number of shoots with football, but we’re still in the experimental stage with it,” he said. “But there’s no doubt in my mind that we'll get to a hybrid model, where the bulk of a game might be watched on a traditional flat screen form and you can dip in and out of 360. In the long term see a scenario where you can look anywhere in 180 degrees as the play moves down the pitch.”
For the time being, the technology will be rolled out in news and sport.
“We've convinced ourselves in sports and news that there's a purpose,” said Davey. “Now we're going into entertainment. No-one is quite sure yet how to tell a story narrative in 360 degrees, so we're doing a number of experiments.”
He said that the VR and 36-degree content would remain free for the foreseeable future.
“We don’t yet have a plan in place to turn into a pay service,” said Davey. “In the short term we just want to get it out there.”
The Sky VR app is available to download in Ireland and the UK from today.