Earlier this month, Apple TV 4K owners who watch sports on Apple’s TV service may have noticed a small new feature called multiview as part of TVOS 16.5. As its name suggests, this feature allows users to watch multiple games at once, making it particularly useful for MLS Season Pass subscribers or MLB fans who are trying to keep tabs on multiple matches that Apple is streaming at the same time.
And whereas Apple’s current multiview plans are extremely limited to just its Apple TV 4K boxes running beta software, the feature could be a bit more interesting with Apple’s long-rumored AR/VR headset that rumors suggest will materialize in June at the company’s annual WWDC.
Immersing in sports
In a recent report, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman detailed a few ways Apple plans to position the forthcoming headset to users. Among apps for FaceTime, gaming and fitness was this:
“One selling point for the headset will be viewing sports in an immersive way. The company already offers games from Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball on Apple TV Plus, but it’s looking to make that a richer experience.” He also notes that Apple purchased NextVR, a company that produces sporting events and concerts in virtual reality, back In 2020.
Although Apple has yet to stream any games in virtual reality, its MLS and MLB deals could give it room to explore adding VR cameras to its productions in the future. Its Apple TV Plus broadcasts of MLB games have already explored new camera angles, including an “ump view” that lets you watch some action live from the perspective of the home plate umpire.
Some leagues already offer VR games, including the NBA which has offered live VR streams for years. In January, the league announced it was expanding its partnership with Meta for VR streaming of regular season games on the latter’s Horizon Worlds platform.
While most of the NBA games that aired in VR this year were basically giant virtualized versions of the main TV broadcast, the league did do five “immersive 180-degree monoscopic live VR games in 2880 resolution” that allowed fans to virtually sit courtside to watch live basketball on a Meta Quest headset.
“We love quoting a stat that 99% of fans will never get to a game,” Teddy Kaplan, the NBA’s new media partner management lead, told CNET, noting that when factoring in international fans and the ability to sit courtside, that number is closer to rounding up to 100% of fans.
“And so we were like, what would be cooler than just setting up a camera courtside and stepping away and letting you experience that courtside seat experience,” he said.
“We want to bring that arena atmosphere to them,” said Paul Massache, the NBA’s associate vice president of broadcasting content management. “Part of that is building this immersive experience. Now to have viewers sit courtside virtually is an experience that really can’t be duplicated. Unless of course, you know, you’re at the game.”
Multiview could be the gateway
The concept of multiview isn’t unique to Apple. Google’s YouTube TV offered a similar feature for March Madness and plans to include a multiview option for its NFL Sunday Ticket package in the fall. Sony offered a similar capability with its now-discontinued PlayStation Vue live TV streaming service back in 2019, while Fubo has also had the option as a part of its service for years.
But while it remains to be seen how deep down the VR rabbit hole Apple goes with live game production, in the interim it could put multiview into play.
Imagine the Apple TV app on the headset. Whereas multiview on a TV puts up to four games into four windows that are limited in size by your physical screen, with the headset you could have what amounts to four giant virtual screens that provide a sports bar-like experience at home or wherever you put the headset on.
As Apple also is involved in the production of these MLS and MLB games, it could go down a route that combines AR stats and overlays to create an immersive experience similar to what Magic Leap and the NBA once envisioned for that company’s headset.
Apple’s dabbling with sports always felt like it was building to something more than just another piece of content for its streaming ambitions. It’s possible that with the headset’s rumored imminent arrival and the rollout of new features like multiview, we might be starting to finally see that vision beginning to come into focus.