November 18, 2021
Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images
Good morning, and welcome to Protocol Next Up. This week: Swerve Sports is catering to cord cutters, and Meta is developing a haptic glove to make AR and VR feel more real.
Sports has long been cable's biggest moat: To watch the big games, people still need ESPN, and perhaps a handful of other sports networks that are only available via pay TV. Cord cutters can catch some games on broadcast TV, and a new crop of cheaper services is carrying some events (NBCUniversal's Peacock is streaming Sunday Night Football games, as well as the 2022 Super Bowl). Ultimately, those options are still limited, though.
Former Roku exec Steve Shannon knows this problem all too well. "Cord cutters don't have very much sports to look at," Shannon told me this week. "A lot of people cut the cord, and then just cease having access to most sports programming."
Shannon wants to change that with Swerve Sports, a new linear 24/7 channel that is streaming for free on the Roku Channel, with plans to expand to additional smart TV platforms soon. It's what's commonly known in the industry as a FAST channel.
The one thing you won't find on Swerve is live games, at least not for now. "It's not realistic for us to get things like NFL games or Major League Baseball games," Shannon admitted. However, Shannon believes that documentary content can be a big draw for sports fans. "If you look at the schedule on ESPN, not that much of it is actually games," he told me.
Swerve is a bet on sports leagues moving beyond the bundle, forced by cord cutters voting with their wallets against the ever-increasing pay TV subscription prices. The alternative would be for leagues to eventually lose their cultural significance, as they cater to smaller and smaller audiences, Shannon said: "With cord cutting going the way it's going, is sports going to be relegated to the domain of the rich?"
Ultimately, the NFLs and MLBs of this world will see the light of day and embrace free streaming, he predicted. "Our goal is to position ourselves for the time when the big leagues start realizing that it's more important to go broad than to go premium," Shannon said.
"I think you'll see us doing things in that space. We're actively looking at it." — Niantic CEO John Hanke, suggesting his company may explore NFTs.
"Don't worry about building THE Xverse (what they call Metaverse). Focus on your worlds, your thing. It is a massive, collective project, and there is room for all." — Former Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz, agreeing with John Carmack that setting the goal of building the metaverse is the wrong way to actually get it done.
We're on the cusp of a big shift in how businesses operate and how organization wide innovation happens. Giving people the power to build software that's not only fully customized to their teams' needs and workflows but is also visual and simple will do more than improve how their organizations operate — it will transform work as we know it.
In the future, pulling a lever in Vacation Simulator may feel a little more like touching one in real life: Researchers at Meta's Reality Labs have been working on a haptic glove that would add the sensation of touch to augmented and virtual reality experiences, and ultimately make the metaverse more immersive.
Meta has given us some sneak peeks at the gloves in the past, including in patent filings and brief video appearances, but this is the first time the company is sharing more details on the project.
Meta is not the only company working on this type of haptic glove for VR applications. Notably, HaptX has also been working on a glove that is driven by pneumatics, and is making its devices available to developers for VR and industrial robotics applications.
Still, the technology developed for these gloves may have repercussions beyond AR and VR. "While we're focused on building a haptic glove, the breakthroughs we're making in fluidic switching and control — not to mention soft robotics — could lead to radical advances for the medical industry in lab-on-chip diagnostics, microfluidic biochemistry and even wearable and assistive devices," said Reality Labs Research Hardware Engineering Director Tristan Trutna.
A version of this story first appeared on Protocol.com.
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Sometimes, it feels like there are two mutually exclusive versions of AR: playful and goofy phone filters, and utilitarian headgear that seems solely focused on maps, notifications and getting things done. That's largely because existing AR glasses are mostly geared toward the enterprise. But still: How will we actually have fun with these types of glasses once they become available to regular people? Nike recently teamed up with Snapchat to explore just that, and the resulting video is pretty compelling. Who wouldn't want to see music visualizations during their morning run, meet funky little AR pigeons along the way and get celebrated by billboards in the sky after a job well done? On the flip side, I may have just found another excuse to not get in shape for at least a few more years. Because, really, without all of this, why even bother?
Thanks for reading — see you next week!