VR Continues To Expand Across NBA With Turner Sports, Intel Deal

Turner will live-stream about 30 VR games this season, beginning All-Star Weekend

This season, everyone can have a courtside seat. A multi-year agreement between Intel, the NBA, and Turner Sports will create virtual-reality streams for many Thursday-night NBA on TNT games, as well as some of the playoffs. Viewers will be able to catch about 30 games in all, starting All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles in February.

To catch the immersive action, viewers will need a Google Daydream or Samsung Gear VR headset and the NBA on TNT VR app, which will be free to download a few weeks before the first game. However, viewers will need to authenticate their apps to view the games, so this requires a pay-TV subscription.

Turner Sports will position multiple Intel virtual-reality cameras around the court during as many 30 live VR productions of NBA games this season.

Intel is providing the VR streams much as it did for the MLB last season, positioning multiple VR cameras around the arenas. So far, Turner Sports says it will offer two views per game, one courtside and one up higher in the stands. The VR streams might have their own commentators calling the action. Although the Thursday-night schedule is available now, Turner doesn’t know yet which games will stream in VR. Streams will be available to all U.S. viewers, with no blackouts.

Turner Sports doesn’t think of this as an alternative view for the fans or even as a complementary experience for people watching the broadcast feeds. Instead, the effort is designed to pull in an entirely new audience.

“We see it as additive; it’s not cannibalizing an existing audience,” says Will Funk, EVP, property marketing and corporate partnerships, Turner Sports. “It’s a new audience. It’s additional eyeballs. Early adopters, millennials, tech-savvy consumers [are] very hard-to-reach consumers. We’ll have an opportunity to reach them in this environment.”

Turner Sports’ Will Funk: “We see it as additive; it’s not cannibalizing an existing audience. It’s a new audience. It’s additional eyeballs.”

This isn’t the first time Turner Sports has worked with Intel to stream in VR, but it’s the most ambitious. Their VR partnership began last year during March Madness, with Intel the official VR partner of the NCAA. That experience taught Funk much about doing VR right and delivering a quality experience that feels true to the medium.

Although Intel will control the VR streaming, Turner will work with brands to create immersive ads for viewers, and that has Funk excited about the chance to chart new territory and bring something fresh to sponsors.

“We see the opportunity here to obviously be in a new space in terms of virtual reality and some pretty interesting advertising opportunities for our partners: we can actually produce native VR-branded content for our ad partners and insert that into the VR telecast where there are natural breaks, as well as have it available on demand in addition to the live feed of the games,” he explains. “We’re not looking to just drop a regular two-dimensional 30-second commercial into the breaks on this platform. We’re going to make sure it’s contextually relevant and native to the platform.”

Although the medium is new and the audience still growing, Funk says VR is an attractive area for marketers: the audience is highly coveted, viewers are completely engaged, and it offers the chance to be an early mover in what could be a major platform.

Turner also is planning to add on-demand VR content to the app, but that decision hasn’t been finalized yet. Fans should expect ancillary content that fits in well with the live streams but aren’t the kinds of things that would appear on linear TV. This extra content might or might not require authentication. Again, it’s still to be determined.

Although that sounds like plenty, Intel and Turner have one more tech surprise for fans. In two NBA arenas — the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland and the American Airlines Center in Dallas — they’ll be offering freeD views of game highlights. The long name for this is 360-degree volumetric video, and it allows the broadcaster to zero in on a key moment in play and show it from all angles. If you’re asking, “Is this like the Matrix effect?,” yes, that’s what it is. FreeD will show up in the linear-broadcast feeds, not the VR app. You can take a look at how it enhances these Minnesota Vikings and Houston Texans touchdowns. Intel is offering freeD technology to all the NBA’s global partners in more than 200 countries. Intel also is looking to install the technology in other venues.

With Turner’s upcoming VR app, even fans who can’t attend games in person will feel like they did. With a few months to go until launch, Funk and his team are making sure the platform offers a great experience for both fans and brand partners.

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