Microsoft needs to partner with the NFL and other sports to mainstream Windows Mixed Reality

Alex Kipman in VR
Alex Kipman in VR (Image credit: Windows Central)

This week Microsoft released the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update to over 500 million PCs. One of the hallmark features that's included in every release for free is the Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) experience. While users still need to pick up one of the many new head-mounted displays (HMD) to join in the virtual reality barrier to entry has never been lower.

One problem Microsoft faces is how to get people to use Windows Mixed Reality. Videos games are one fashionable way, but to hit the public zeitgeist, Microsoft will have to go bigger. Partnering up with sports franchises like the NFL, NBA, and even mixed-martial arts like UFC could be that path. Adding in some media concerts and content on Netflix and Hulu could be another.

Video games are not enough

Playing virtual reality games like Superhot, Minecraft, and various other titles is a great start for Windows Mixed Reality, but it's also the obvious strategy.

Merely mentioning virtual reality (or Mixed Reality, as Microsoft calls it) suggests video games. Combined with PC gamers and Steam VR Microsoft is already doing an excellent job as positioning WMR to that audience.

Primer: What exactly is Microsoft's 'Windows Mixed Reality?'

But gaming and virtual reality have been around for a couple of years now, and while it's growing at least compared to console and mobile gaming, it's still somewhat niche. Either way, Microsoft seems to have its gaming strategy down for WMR, so I'm not concerned about that.

What needs to happen is general consumers – the masses, if you will – need to see a compelling reason to drop $300 on WMR that goes beyond gaming (or "productivity").

Windows Mixed Reality and sports ball

Sports is typically the one unifier amongst Americans (well, until recently at least). Even in Europe, where football has a strong tradition, people come together to support their favorite team.

Upwards of 22 million people in the U.S. watch the NFL, 30 million viewers tuned into the NBA Finals. Even baseball, which has seen near record lows for viewership, still pulls between 7 and 10 million people. The UFC, the most significant mixed-martial arts promoters (and one of the fastest growing areas in sports), can pull in 5 million Pay Per Views (PPV).

Microsoft outlines its plans for Windows Mixed Reality

Now imagine that during Super Bowl LII (February 4, 2018) Microsoft and the NFL offer a way to watch the game in Windows Mixed Reality? Super Bowl LI pulled in 111 million viewers. There's a reason why advertising is so massive during that game. Being able to strap on a Windows Mixed Reality HMD to watch the game in 360-degrees, or view from the sidelines as if you were there could be a game changer – even if it's a bit of a novelty. Or maybe just start small and go with the famous Super Bowl Half-Time show. It's a start.

Microsoft and the NFL are no strangers either. The league currently uses Microsoft Surface tablets on the field and for the broadcast. Microsoft sells NFL-branded Surface Type Covers. Microsoft even teased what Windows Mixed Reality and the NFL could look like using HoloLens back in 2016 – clearly, both groups are at least thinking about this already.

By bringing Windows Mixed Reality to the wide world of sports, Microsoft could finally give a good reason why more than just gamers should want the technology. After all, there are a lot of Windows 10 computers already in households with Windows Mixed Reality just waiting to be utilized. The groundwork is already there.

Concerts, live events and more

Musicians are already getting on board with different viewing experiences. Metallica recently used a 360-degree virtual reality camera to shoot some of the concerts on its 2017 tour. Strapping on a VR headset and fans get to see the show from the stage with the ability to look all around them as if they were there.

Windows Mixed Reality, which is more powerful than what a Samsung Android phone is capable of, could do the same plus more with better fidelity, audio, and more.

In recent years, there has been a lot of giant music concerts, e.g., Roger Waters and his revamped The Wall tour, which is already embracing every new technological innovation they can try out.

Tying in Windows Mixed Reality – either through sponsorships or partnerships – would be a great way to reach millions of users who don't yet know their laptops can already do this stuff.

Windows Mixed Reality must find its way

I've noted many times that holograms, mixed reality, virtual reality, etc. has its place in today's world, but finding the secret to going mainstream with it is a test. Microsoft – like Apple and Google – need to demonstrate that this tech is more than just a gimmick or one-time use novelty.

The most prominent hindrance now – besides costs and consumer education – is user isolation and its anti-socialness. I'm not entirely sure slapping on an HMD in the middle of a Super Bowl party will solve that or make it any less weird.

5 things you (really) need to know about Windows Mixed Reality

Apparently, the real future with Windows Mixed Reality lies with "smart" headsets that jump between opaque-lenses for virtual reality experiences and clear for mixed reality ones. Microsoft's head of Windows Mixed Reality and HoloLens inventor, Alex Kipman, has already hinted that such a headset is in the works and is the real plan.

Until then getting current users interested in Windows Mixed Reality through mainstream and popular media events on TV and streaming services could be the necessary linchpin to raise awareness. Hulu is now offering some Windows Mixed Reality experiences which is a great start, but please let me watch the next McGregor UFC fight, or Brady throwing the next Super Bowl-winning catch, with my Dell Visor.

Daniel Rubino

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been here covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics and ran the projectors at movie theaters, which has done absolutely nothing for his career.

  • Golf is another sport for WMR....
  • Aren't Altspace already doing music and comedy? Although on a much smaller scale.
  • Its a question or an answer ?
  • During their MR press conference demo, I think it was the guy from Intel who said they had big plans for the upcoming Winter Olympics. I'm excited about that, as long as it's not a gimmick but instead puts you in the middle of the events in a meaningful way.
  • Yeah, forgot to mention that, but accurate with the Olympics.
  • but but microosft don't care about consumers 
  • This is getting old. Time to get over your phone or move away from Microsoft if you really feel that way.
  • It may be getting old, but until MS change course it will remain a problem. I'm not moving away because I'm an MS addict, but even I can't pretend MS are not moving away from the consumer. It's about the one thing they've said that has been backed up with actions. If the Mixed Reality project had been started today it would have been 100% enterprise focused, we all know it. The consumer angle is a hang over from the good old days, and we can only hope (but not really expect) that they'll decide to link it to Xbox and sell them off together when they get round to addressing the remaining legacy products. It's all about providing mostly cloud services to enterprise now Dan, MS have actually detailed this pretty well (I know, shocker right?) and demonstrated a commitment to this direction. I can get why you don't want to accept this, I don't either, but the only way back is to hope for a change in management. Nadella is unlikely to get hit by a beam of light and change his name to Paul I suspect.
  • They did it to themselves. I'm not sure you know about this, but most people start to feel too jaded to want to spend a few hundred dollars after paying hundreds on something that left them very screwed over...and if it's not the phone platform being abandoned then it was dealing with faulty smartphones, surfaces, royally borked rollouts of Windows 8 and/or 10, RRoD'd game consoles, shoddy controllers for aforementioned consoles, et al. these last few years. The fact that they reflexively just bail rather than making ammends or properly nurture their products doesn't give us confidence if they clearly don't have confidence in their own work. Microsoft's consumer mantra lately was to turn them ALL into paying beta testers for the vast majority of their products.
  • Change 'most' into 'few'. Daniel is right. Move on when you feel this way. It's getting old.
  • @ Pik Don't be stupid. Move on, please.
  • Definietly a very true article! Mixed reality is doomed unless they can differentiate in consumer's minds why it's better than the phone you already have
  • That's a great idea! If this idea 💡 hasn't already been pitched to Microsoft you should do it Dan! I really like the notion of viewing the Superbowl 🏈 in 360. How sweet would that be...
  • I agree..great idea from Daniel...using sportsball to take MR mainstream.... NFL would be great in the US.. Soccer for most of the world... and  in the Indian subcontinent they're crazy about cricket!
  • If we're talking sports, and that wouldn't attract me particularly, wouldn't it be better to focus on the big international sports over colloquial games? That would be where the bulk of potential customers could be attracted.
  • What have I been saying since the beginning of time, Daniel?.... MARKETING!
    Y'all believe it now. Yep.
    It doesn't matter how great your product, or service is if NOBODY knows about it. It's like the biggest tree on earth falling in the forest with nobody around. Not a sound. I've said this a million times over. And, it's tha dog gone truth😎😎😎😎😎💜💜💜💜💜💜💜💜
  • It also doesn't matter how well you advertise if your product sucks. A great product with no marketing can still grow via word of mouth. A crummy product with heavy marketing won't be able to sustain very long since it actually has to perform once you get it home. You way over-estimate how good many of Microsoft's products are. Great products like Surface Pro are easy to market and have done well. Other, weaker products haven't because it is harder to market and sell a poor product. Marketing is just a scapegoat so you don't have to face the fact that many Microsoft products are inferior to the competition. You have made this same claim many times and have nothing to back it up. And before you ask, I will stop replying to your poor argument when you stop making it. Microsoft has a large following and commands a large audience in the tech field. If they release a great product, it will get noticed and will become popular. Marketing certainly isn't Microsoft's strong point, but they have other issues to tackle first.
  • Didn't read one word of your pathetic trolling nonsense. F-Off
  • Great copy paste skills.
  • "It's like the biggest tree on earth falling in the forest with nobody around. Not a sound. " Yes, it makes sound.   Physical reality exists, regardless of whether or not there are any humans around to perceive it.  
  • You're right, and I'm sure plenty of animals, and bugs, hear it...... Lol.
    But, MS isn't gonna be relevant if only animals, and bugs, hear them... They need the attention of humans😲😲😲😲😲😲😲
  • @rodneyej... well where does this (getting NFL adopting for VR) fall under? Consumers that's where... which enterprise company / corp is going to buy VR headsets for their employees to watch sport on? lol. Especially since it will result in almost zero productivity unless of course the purpose of the company is test analytical tools for sport in real time - which is a niche on a global scale. Soooo anyone still think foregoing the consumer market is an awesome idea? lol... As I keep on saying there is not many growth points in the enterprise sector compared to consumers which almost has an infinite number of growth points... as long there are people around.. these growth points will either be created organically through trend shifts or inorganically through marketing campaigns.
  • Car races, it should be easy to add 360 camera to chassis. Ozo-like camera inside a ball could give a funny view to a game (without uncontrollable spin and puking, that is). 3D movies at home. Remote surveillance. Neuromancer-like view to internet. Limitless views (displays) for references, guides and regulations for designers. Mixed reality headsets missed opportunity to do AR. Cameras are already in place - but apparently not capable - to stream real world behind generated content. Maybe it will be possible to generate real environment in VR...
  • That's all well, and good but you're talking about one of the greediest company's around (NFL). If they don't see, or get some sort of profit out of something like this, it'll never happen.
  • Well they wouldn't give the content away, that's for sure. Don't think any major sporting league would do that. The average age of the big 4 American leagues is also older than might be realized (link follows). So you could look at it as an untapped, younger demo might be interested in viewing a game like this or that the older viewing audience is unlikely to change viewing habits with new technology. Probably a bit of both.
  • What kind of internet bandwidth does it take to push something like a live sporting event to a VR headset? Similar to 4k video stream? More, less? Just curious.
  • Good question but has to be less than 4K; right now the resolution is not very high for these
  • Yeah I'm just curious if 3 people watching a game via streaming headset requires 3x the bandwidth compared to 3 people watching a single TV stream. MLB is supposed to be playing around with 4k streaming with their service, which is hands down the most well executed streaming product. Wonder if they'd give something like this a shot, see a HR from different angles of the park, etc. This actually gets me interested in one of these devices for the first time. I can't imagine wearing a headset to watch a 3.5 hour game, but maybe to watch replays, etc. Similar to pulling out your phone while watching TV.
  • Are you sure about that? When the NFL is hemorrhaging viewers?
  • Microsoft is too notorious for prematurely bailing on an initiative and I can't see them wanting to fully invest themselves into creating the content for something that wouldn't even be catering to their core demographic. This wouldn't even be on my radar as a reason to want the device and frankly, partnering with peddlers of marxist agitprop would make me avoid it out of spite regardless of how tempted I would be to get it otherwise.
  • Ive always wanted to strap on a huge headset to watch NFL games with a bunch of my friends.
  • Sports fans - particularly NFL football fans - are generally not computer nerds.   This is a dumb idea that will go nowhere.   Besides, Sports fans already have huge flat screen TVs with multichannel sound.   What ones the geeky helmet bring to the table?
  • Plus, the NFL already has enough problems getting fans to the stadium.   They have no incentive to make the home viewing experience even better, if even for only 2% of viewers.   Cant seem to edit the other post.  "Ones" should be "does", obviously.  
  • I thought the NFL is still mad at Microsoft for pushing those Surface tablets on the coaches...
  • Yes, they probably are.   I wonder when that contract ends?
  • Sports? Seriously? Besides the fact already mentioned by others that people watching an event at home means empty stadiums and therefore quite unlikely considering how many entities would be against history has already shown what is really driving adoptions of these kind of technologies and it is... PORN! 
  • wow, that's a very good idea for sport and concert...
  • I was actually thinking about this yesterday... What if they replace the Surface tablets with headsets for Official Reviews of plays. This seems like a better pairing for actually seeing the replays ok the field.
  • I don't have any interest in the NFL, NBA or UFC but if it helps with the adoption of WMR then I'm all for it. I don't watch golf anymore but I think that would be a good application. Concerts for sure. But I would also like more nature and travel applications. Why not real time travel cams. Imagine being able to have a realtime seat at cafe in Cinque Terre, or at Iquazu Falls or hitch a ride on someone strolling the famous beaches and streets of the world