Photo: Daniel Reinhardt/AP
Photo: Daniel Reinhardt/AP

German soccer jumps off page as newspaper pushes augmented reality to readers

Soccer fans can now watch videos of Germany's top league matches by leafing through Europe's biggest-selling daily newspaper.

Axel Springer's Bild has embedded a feature that turns pictures in the paper into 30-second clips when readers hover over them with their smartphone. Highlights from the Bundesliga season, starting this weekend, will be included.

Publishers from Canada to Japan have dabbled with augmented reality, but without much impact beyond introducing readers to a new gimmick. Conde Nast's New Yorker and Meredith Corp.'s Time are among U.S. publications that have featured the technology. Axel Springer says its push is unique among European peers because it offers exclusive sports content to readers that have a copy of the paper at no additional cost.

The gaming world has put AR to better use, and smartphone users have myriad apps to chose from, with blockbuster success Pokemon Go being one of the most well-known examples.

For the first time in Europe, readers "are getting direct, exclusive access to this highly attractive video content by buying the newspaper," Matthias Bruegelmann, who heads Bild's sports coverage, said Wednesday in an emailed statement. "We're making the printed newspaper more attractive and are showing the potential of the newspaper of the future."

Here's more on how Axel Springer seeks to become a digital giant

The AR push, which the company plans to expand to areas beyond soccer, is meant to make Bild's print edition more attractive for tech-savvy readers. It also shows that Axel Springer is unwilling to leave its most popular print product behind as it shifts to digital publishing.

Bild print sales have plunged by more than half in the past 15 years, to about 1.7 million copies a day in 2017. Chief Executive Officer Mathias Doepfner has made up some of that lost revenue with online fees, and today the newspaper has more than 400,000 web subscribers who pay as much as 13 euros ($15) a month for access.

Bild advertised the new feature with two AR photos printed on its front page on Wednesday. They turned into reels of some of the most memorable Bundesliga goals, including a long-range screamer by World Cup winner Lothar Matthaeus from 1992. To use the feature, readers have to download Bild's free news app that comes with photo-scanning ability. Readers don't have to be a subscriber to use it -- buying a print edition on the newsstand is enough.