The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro marked a transition in Olympic coverage. Gone are the days of watching a single sport on network TV. Instead, viewers had the option to stream whichever event they wanted to see online. NBC was forced to meet its audience where they already are to get viewership numbers, and people are increasingly not sitting in front of a television set (at least not one hooked up to satellite or a cable box).

But the games of the future will look much, much different, and it won’t just be because people will be watching from smartphones and computers. Immersive technology will help content creators form a more compelling sport narrative. Underwater cameras following Michael Phelps’s every stroke was cool, but seeing exactly what he sees is even cooler (at least for a few seconds).

Future Olympics will be a whole new viewing experience because they will be focused on the whims and desires of the viewer.

“What people need to remember is that no matter what the technology is, there is a person at the receiving end,” Todd Richmond, director of advanced prototypes at the University of Southern California and IEEE fellow, tells Inverse. “So it’s really about a person’s relationship with the devices.”

That relationship will be shaped by immersive viewing technology, Richmond says. It’s not just virtual reality, which is limited by the number of devices, and online streaming, which opens doors to a wider number of sports but doesn’t offer many other advantages. Expect to see a complete revamp in the viewing experience for 2020 and beyond.

Helmet cams, like the one above, could change the angle on sports.
Helmet cams, like the one above, could change the angle on sports.

Future Olympics will be a whole new viewing experience because they will be focused on the whims and desires of the viewer.

“No matter what the technology is, there is a person at the receiving end,” Todd Richmond, director of advanced prototypes at the University of Southern California and IEEE fellow, tells Inverse. “It’s really about a person’s relationship with the devices.”

That relationship will be shaped by immersive viewing technology, Richmond says. It’s not just virtual reality — which is limited by the number of devices — and online streaming, which opens doors to a wider number of sports but doesn’t offer many other advantages. Expect to see a complete revamp in the viewing experience for 2020 and beyond.

Headband sweat monitors, anyone?
Headband sweat monitors, anyone?

Wearable cameras

Cameras are getting so small they can be put on pretty much any and every surface. Strap one on a helmet, bike, or a swimmer’s goggles. Personal angles will make people feel like they are in the action, even more so than actually sitting in the stands.

In future Olympics, viewers will be able to switch from an overhead view to Katie Ledecky’s view as she finishes seconds before the rest of the pool. The viewer will play the role of producer, switching views at will (one can only stare at the black line on the pool floor for so long, after all).

“Somebody has to turn that into a compelling narrative,” Richmond says. “The traditional way that’s been done is a producer in a broadcast truck who is picking which camera feed to show. That’s changed with interactive apps where I can pick which camera I want to watch. I become the director.”

Commentary isn't one size fits all.
Commentary isn't one size fits all.

Bio-computing

It’s one thing to watch an event. It’s entirely different to know what it feels like to be a competitor. Biometrics from Fitbit-like devices on athletes could help a user fully understand, for example, why competitive walking is no joke.

The viability of bio-computing rests in what athletes are comfortable with sharing, though. It all comes down to competitive advantage, and if an athlete thinks that giving away biometric data makes it harder to win, then it’s not worth it for the viewer. American viewers, at least, would be much less interested if keeping track of an athlete’s heart rate throughout a race if it meant missing out on all those trips to the winners podium.

Smart Commentators

Listening to a broadcaster try to explain what is going on at that moment is one of the pains of watching sports. Disagree? Head over to the “NBC Gymnastics Commentators Need to Go” Facebook group, or check out the scathing New Yorker piece calling for better women’s gymnastics coverage.

Augmented reality offers so much more than information at the tap of a finger.
Augmented reality offers so much more than information at the tap of a finger.

Some people want more insight, but for others, the base level commentary devoid of specific terms and scoring specificities is what they need.

“One of the challenges for people who broadcast sports is they don’t know how smart their audience is about that sport,” Richmond says. “During more obscure sports for U.S. audiences, the announcers generally assume viewers don’t know much about what they’re watching.”

In the future (unfortunately not as soon as the 2020 Olympics, though), people will be able to choose the level of commentary to listen to. Coverage will range from “I don’t know anything about this sport,” to “expert.” In other words, commentary will go the way of everything else in media: audience targeted.

Augmented reality story telling

Augmented reality has a better chance of transforming the sports viewing experience than virtual reality, Richmond says. Virtual reality is isolating, sports watching generally isn’t. There will never be a day that a bar fills with people wearing VR headsets, because watching sports is a social, communal experience.

Say goodbye to fuzzy screens.
Say goodbye to fuzzy screens.

Viewing devices will start to morph until watching from home is infinitely better than watching from the stands.

“There’s going to be a blurring,” Richmond says. “Everything will be mixed reality, and it’s just a question of how cut off you become from your immediate surroundings.” During future olympics, viewers can even get CCTV play-by-plays. Regardless of the sport, the future of spectatorship is bright. We will be able to flip a switch and see the stats of the soccer player who was just subbed in, or a brief explanation of a certain rule.

Before anything changes for viewers, advanced technology needs to become more widespread. Also, just as importantly, broadcasters need to learn how to tell compelling stories with that technology.

It will be a whole different experience when you sit down to view future Olympics. Judging by how Olympics go at the actual site, though, athletes will still probably have to deal with things like green pools.

Photos via Getty Images / Doug Pensinger, UC Berkeley / YouTube, Getty Images / Jennifer Stewart, Getty Images / Justin Sullivan, Getty Images / Chris McGrath, Getty Images / Frederick M. Brown

Nickolaus is a writer in New York City. His writing can be found in places like Men’s Journal, Grape Collective and All That Is Interesting. He graduated from Auburn University, but he tries to avoid yelling War Eagle in public.