Friday October 21st, 2016

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The NBA will become the first professional sports league to offer a regular schedule of live games delivered in virtual reality. NBA Digital has announced a multiyear partnership with NextVR that includes live streaming at least one NBA LEAGUE PASS game per week during the upcoming regular season.

A regular schedule of virtual reality games is a significant undertaking for the NBA, as the live broadcasts will include dedicated announcers, multiple unmanned camera angles and graphics. It’s a culmination of the league having learned what the technology was capable of after 2 ½ years of experimentation.

“What we came to recognize is to really push innovation forward in the live space and VR, we needed to make a much bigger commitment,” said Jeff Marsilio, the NBA’s vice president of global media distribution. “We need to commit to innovating.”

NBA LEAGUE PASS subscribers for the full season who wear Samsung Gear VR headsets or use compatible Samsung smartphones can experience the games by accessing the free NextVR app’s new NBA Channel. Additional VR headset options will be supported later in the season.

The first live VR broadcast of the season is scheduled for Oct. 27 when the Sacramento Kings open the Golden 1 Center and play against the San Antonio Spurs. That broadcast is available for free because it comes during the NBA LEAGUE PASS free trial period. The full schedule of live VR games that will be announced later this month will include at least 25 games that include every NBA team, according to Marsilio. After the opener, the featured games with 180-degree views will be played on Tuesdays, NextVR vice president of content Danny Keens told Upload VR.

NBA Digital is the league’s portfolio of digital assets jointly managed by the NBA and Turner Sports. It was only a year ago when the NBA had partnered with NextVR and Turner Sports to stream the first live professional sports game in virtual reality when the Golden State Warriors played in their season opener against the New Orleans Pelicans. Bringing NBA fans worldwide closer to the action with a courtside viewpoint was a priority for the league.

“The market is really nascent, but we believe in it,” Marsilio said of live VR broadcasts. “We’ve done a lot of research. It’s really about fan experience.

“We want to be ready when the market is there.”

The league began experimenting with virtual reality during the 2013-14 season when NextVR captured a Warriors game against the Denver Nuggets at Oracle Arena and privately tested NextVR’s live broadcast capabilities with a courtside camera last March during their game against the Dallas Mavericks. Two months later, Warriors co-owner Peter Guber was announced as the chair of NextVR’s advisory Board of Directors last May, and he also made a strategic capital investment in the company.

Now, NextVR is taking the next step. CEO and co-founder David Cole released a statement Tuesday declaring that doing so meant harnessing its technology to become a consumer-driven content company.

“They have the most complete, professional broadcast and production that I’ve seen,” Marsilio said.

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