Chinese internet platforms try out metaverse, VR for Qatar World Cup matches

People walk past the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup countdown clock as it nears thirty days to the sporting event, in Doha on October 20, 2022. Photo:VCG

People walk past the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup countdown clock in Doha on October 20, 2022. Photo: VCG

As the craze of the World Cup soccer tournament spreads across the globe, Chinese internet platforms are rushing to join the carnival and compete for a huge number of sports fans in the country by offering a “metaverse-like” viewing experience enabled by 5G and virtual reality (VR).

The efforts will help the internet-based giants secure a growing amount of traffic during the sports event, analysts said, but what matters more is that widespread use of the new technologies will allow companies to perfect their product offerings.

Two notable participants are Chinese streaming service Migu, a subsidiary of China Mobile, and Douyin, the Chinese TikTok. The two streaming platforms have sub-licensed rights to air live and on-demand coverage of the Qatar World Cup, and will share digital coverage of the events with state-owned broadcaster China Media Group (CMG).

According to media reports, Migu and Douyin paid a “sky-high” price for the broadcasting rights. Only six channels in the Chinese mainland, including Migu China Mobile and Douyin, were authorized to broadcast the World Cup matches.

Gan Yuqing, chief content officer of Migu, said in July that the company will create a world first virtual interactive space for watching the tournament, and will livestream the event with technologies such as 5G and VR to give a surreal feeling to Chinese soccer fans.

On its official Sina Weibo account, Migu announced plans to hold a “Metaverse World Cup Music Festival” and a “surprise visitor” from 2070 will appear at the event.

Douyin flagged the slogan of “Watch the World Cup live broadcast on Douyin” on its official Weibo account. VR headset maker Pico, also owned by ByteDance, said users can watch live broadcasts of the World Cup using its VR goggles, enabling soccer fans to invite their friends from far away into their own digital rooms to watch matches together.

As a global sports event, the World Cup has a huge influence, and it has undoubtedly become a must for corporate marketing, You Xi, co-founder of the Kandong app, told the Global Times on Sunday, noting that the event will greatly attract much-needed internet users to the internet platforms.

Moreover, a football game is a perfect scenario for applying the new technologies, and the event will be a great push for the VR and metaverse industry in China, You said.

“Since US tech giant Facebook transformed into Meta and put forward the concept of the metaverse, progress has been slow. But China has been pushing forward the development both on the country level and company level,” Chen Jia, an independent industry observer, told the Global Times on Sunday.

On November 1, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, together with other four government agencies, unveiled a five-year plan for 2022 to 2026, to boost the development of the VR industry, aiming to achieve a total industrial scale exceeding 350 billion yuan ($48.1 billion) in 2026.

The plan sets an overall goal of achieving major breakthroughs in key technologies such as three-dimensionality and improving the ecosystem so that VR is adopted to promote economic development.

“Through the application of various scenarios in the metaverse of this World Cup, China can also test the overall quality of the industry chain in the field of virtual reality technology, and thus gain an early foothold in the sector,” Chen noted.

However, Guo Tao, a veteran internet analyst, pointed out that the metaverse as a whole is still in the initial stage of development. There are some problems such as immature technologies and business models that need to be verified by the market.

“The application in sports events is mainly concentrated in the fields of virtual events, virtual anchors, virtual studios, digital management and other fields, while the user experience remains inadequate and the product stickiness is not enough,” Guo told the Global Times on Sunday .

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