Almost five years ago, Emmanuelle Roger and Stéphane Guerin, the founders of immersiv.io, were working at the same big mobile agency in Paris. The work was engaging and exciting and they were developing mobile apps for major sporting leagues like the World Cup, the Champions League, for FIFA. They were also working with big-name broadcasters like Fox Sport, Canal +, BeIN Sports, RMC Sport. But they believed there was room for much more innovation in the field.
“In the end, we started working on these innovative AR projects and we immediately realized this would be the next digital wave: the next form of media which users would employ to interact with the digital sphere in everyday life. We understood this would entirely reshape the way we watch sports. Suddenly working mostly on mobile apps wasn’t enough — we decided to launch immersiv.io to use our knowledge to take the sports fan experience from mobile to augmented reality.
Success came quickly. Just two years into their entrepreneurial journey, they launched an in-stadium solution, ARISE. This allows fans to augment the match in real time — using their smartphones or smartglasses, spectators can click on specific players and access a variety of statistics about how the player is performing, which is visualized as an overlay on top of the players. They launched ARISE in Bonn with the basketball team the Telekom Baskets. “That’s where we proved, both to the rest of the world and ourselves, that our tech was working. And even better — it could take the fan experience up a level.”
Their participation in the hubraum 5G prototyping program played a key role in their development of ARISE — it was while enrolled on the program that immersiv.io developed the solution, Emmanuelle tells me. Since ARISE is a live service, reducing the latency (the time delay between the user action and resulting response) was key to the experience. “During the prototyping program we got the chance to deploy 5G but also edge computing and this enabled us to reduce the overall latency. This, in turn, allowed us to provide our fans with a high-quality experience.”
Around the same time, immersiv.io heard from Germany’s football league, the Bundesliga. They wanted the same service, applied to football instead of basketball, and deployed at a national level. “We understood at this point that we’d be able to offer this service internationally and for other sports — in short, we understood that it would be a success.”
Emmanuelle doesn’t remember popping bottles to celebrate “though of course, champagne is always a good way to celebrate!” Instead, what she recalls is an uptick in motivation on the part of her team.
What makes immersiv.io so different from other startups operating in the sports AR area, Emmanuelle stresses, is the real-time element. “When we talk about sports AR, what we’re talking about is AR that functions either pre- or post-game or, at best, at a near-live level for replays.” She notes that another key difference is how interactive the service they offer is. It’s up to the users to choose what graphics they want to see and when they want to see it so that they can completely personalize their experience.
“In addition, we’re working with the industry leaders when it comes to AR glasses manufacturers. We are official partners with Microsoft, Magic Leap and Nreal and I think that’s also a way we’re different.” These glasses aren’t yet available to consumers — but Emmanuelle suggests tech enthusiasts watch this closely, since “we’re at the very beginning of the commercialisation of those devices for the consumer market.”
As you might expect, the pandemic has shaped what Emmanuelle now thinks of as the sports fan experience of tomorrow. She notes that while they had plenty of focus on the stadium experience over the last few years, inevitably this year meant pursuing something different: bringing the atmosphere from the stadium into the fans’ living rooms, where it might be lacking. They reproduce the game on a 3D mini-pitch or mini-court where you can see the players moving as if you would actually see them in the stadium, and also offer access to AR content like statistics, replays or a timeline with the main match events.
“More than that, with AR, we will be able to create a new type of immersive sports show that goes beyond a TV screen. For instance, when a goal is scored, you will see a player appear in your living room in 3D and celebrate the goal with you, and this can be through 3D avatars or volumetric videos.”
Life has changed so rapidly in the almost five years immersiv.io has operated — what do you think the next five years will hold? I ask, and Emmanuelle pauses for a second before answering. In a nutshell, more sports (they already offer ARISE for basketball, football and ice hockey but want to offer it for sports across the spectrum) and more countries. They currently operate in Europe and have their sights set on North America, too. “Plus, I think the field of e-sports is going to be very interesting for us — you know, like a sports league but with video games. We’ve revolutionized the sports fan experience: why not the e-sports experience, too?”
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