With the spectacle that the #Super Bowl provides (and this year’s thrilling overtime game was no exception), the commercials almost always seem to get more attention than the game itself. Aside from being cute, funny, dumb, motivational, or political, Super Bowl advertisements can also provide a barometer for what technologies are starting to move the needle. That’s why a commercial aired by Hyundai and the broadcast of the game itself via #virtual reality (VR) are worth a second look.

Soldiers overseas participate in VR commercial

The premise of Hyundai’s advertisement was to have three soldiers deployed at a U.S. military airbase in Poland watch the game live in specially-designed rooms with 360 degree screens.

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What the soldiers didn’t know until they entered the room was that their families had been provided seats in Houston’s NRG Stadium, next to the cameras that broadcast the game to Poland.

The result was an immersive virtual reality experience that placed the soldiers in the stadium with their families and allowed them to enjoy the Super Bowl as though they were seated with them at the venue itself. There was no need to wear a clunky headset, because Hyundai had conveniently created a mini-theater with a #360 degree view, an exercise that was certainly not cheap but could pave the way for wider VR use in the future if it becomes more cost effective to design.

Hyundai documented the VR experience in a 90 second ad that aired immediately after the conclusion of the Super Bowl (no mean feat by itself).

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But the impact of VR in the most watched televised game of the year also extended this time to the actual broadcast. Although the entire football contest was not broadcast in VR, FOX Sports announced just a few days before the event that they would stream Super Bowl highlight clips of the game through their Sports VR App.

FOX provided the content as replays in “near real time,” with about 20 key plays made available through their app for Samsung Gear VR and Cardboard. And for fans without either, they could still watch the action in a 360 degree view. FOX also posted a brief, two-minute video of their pre-game preparations that was filmed in the virtual reality format.

NextVR courts the NFL for live viewing

Last Sunday’s foray into VR content represents another step for an industry that truly needs mass adoption to succeed. At last year’s Super Bowl, where most of the pre-game events were held in San Francisco, fans got a chance to sample the immersive sports experience through an exhibit booth set up by NextVR, a virtual reality production company that has moved aggressively to capture the sports viewing market.

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NextVR has partnered with a wide range of broadcast partners, such as FOX, NBC, Turner Sports, and CNN to deliver live VR content. Live events in virtual reality are now available for the NBA, NCAA college sports, and NASCAR.

Yet, the biggest fish in the viewing pond – the NFL – has been tough to land. League executives have expressed concern about everything from the viewing angles to a fan’s ability to properly follow all of the action on a 100-yard field. They want their audience to focus on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, instead of a ball boy wandering along the sideline. Because VR puts you right into the stadium, there’s a lot to see compared with a traditional TV broadcast where you get only what each separate camera provides.

NextVR has captured four professional football games in VR format for the league, and the NFL is continuing to run private tests to see what an entire game might look like. With each successive Super Bowl, the presence of VR is becoming more noticeable on the sporting world’s biggest stage. Perhaps the next game in 2018 will provide the “breakout opportunity” that VR content providers so desperately need.