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Four local firms team up for VR broadcast of Breeders' Cup

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The Breeders' Cup this year will include a live virtual-reality/360-degree broadcast, called Breeders' Cup VR, produced by four firms from Lancaster County. Pictured is a draft preview of what the broadcast will show.
The Breeders' Cup this year will include a live virtual-reality/360-degree broadcast, called Breeders' Cup VR, produced by four firms from Lancaster County. Pictured is a draft preview of what the broadcast will show. - (Photo / )

And they're off — to change the way people watch and bet on one of horse racing's biggest events.

Four small design and technology firms from Lancaster County traveled this week to Churchill Downs in Kentucky to put their digital skills to the test for this weekend’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships, considered the richest two days in sports.

The group includes: Greenfish Labs, a digital media and video production company in Elizabethtown that specializes in virtual-reality content; Elizabethtown-based digital marketing design firm Inovat; video production company Lake View Visual, also in Elizabethtown; and Manheim Township-based Seisan, an app developer that focuses on location-oriented apps for businesses.

Led by Greenfish CEO Sovanna Mam, the team will be in the heart of the action Friday and Saturday, tasked with producing virtual-reality and 360-degree live streaming videos for the event.

The interactive content will be in addition to the NBC Sports television broadcast of the Breeders’ Cup, where $30 million will be paid out in purses over 14 races.

“The main goal is to give viewers a behind-the-scenes live look at the horses as they are preparing to race,” Mam said.

The expanded access could help horse racing attract younger viewers who are drawn to the tech, while also increasing the volume of wagers on individual races.

Mam has produced virtual-reality broadcasts connected to Pope Francis and Dick Clark Productions, projects that helped him land the Breeders’ Cup job. He believes the use of virtual-reality at a major horse race could propel broader tech adoption across the sport.

“Handicappers want to watch the horses and be able to make more informed decisions on how to bet,” he said.

An all-encompassing view

Known as Breeders’ Cup VR, the online broadcast will feature three virtual-reality cameras placed in the backstretch, the paddock and winner’s circle at Churchill Downs. The cameras will provide a 360-degree view, allowing people to follow the horses and jockeys as they move throughout the venue.

One highlight of the VR broadcast, which will be hosted by racing expert Paul Espinoza, is computer vision software that can automatically detect what horse the viewer is looking at in the paddock area. Information about that horse, including current racing odds, will pop up on the viewer’s screen.

So if someone wants to follow the pre-race preparations for Catholic Boy or Mendelssohn, two of the horses in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, they can. Viewers can also follow other horses or watch other picture-in-picture features at their leisure while they monitor the action.

The Breeders’ Cup VR is designed to be watched by more than just people with VR headsets, however. The video content also will be available through the Breeders’ Cup mobile app, website and YouTube channel.

“I think we are, in a lot of ways, pushing what has been done before,” said Doug Logan, president of Inovat.

His team designed the onscreen graphics for Breeders’ Cup VR. Seisan created the detection software, while Lake View Visual is handling the broadcast camera feeds to support Greenfish.

“We all want to rise to the occasion,” said Kevin Flounlacker, owner of Lake View Visual.

Collectively, the four firms will have about 10 people working the event at Churchill Downs, also home of the Kentucky Derby.

Preparation work has been going on since August. That included testing cameras and software at Penn National Race Course in Dauphin County.

A bigger market

If all goes well in Kentucky, the firms hope to repeat this project in future years for Breeders’ Cup Ltd., the nonprofit that operates the championship event. Another goal is to see it expand to more major horse races, including the Kentucky Derby and the other two Triple Crown races, which could help the local firms attract other work.

Churchill Downs also owns online betting site TwinSpires.com, which allows people to wager on horse races from venues across the globe.

Mam believes partnerships with large betting platforms will open up VR broadcasting at more tracks, which could boost race viewership and wagering. That helps drive more sponsorship dollars and higher race purses.

“We see this as a long-term play,” Mam said.

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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin and Cumberland counties. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jscott@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal.

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