The NBA really wants you to watch games in VR

The basketball league has now struck two partnerships to broadcast games in virtual reality. Are fans willing to watch them?

Terry Collins
Terry Collins Staff Reporter, CNET News
Terry writes about social networking giants and legal issues in Silicon Valley for CNET News. He joined CNET News from the Associated Press, where he spent the six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area. Before the AP, Terry worked at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis and the Kansas City Star. Terry's a native of Chicago.
2 min read

What's keeping you from watching NBA games in VR?

Is it the bulky headsets? Is it the slow camera switches that don't follow the players quickly enough? Is it too expensive?

The  NBA   is betting that one reason is it just doesn't have enough partnerships yet. So, the league is teaming up with Turner Sports and Intel TrueVR to air weekly games on TNT in VR starting with the All-Star weekend festivities from Los Angeles in February.


NBA fans will soon be able to see more of MVP Russell Westbrook in virtual reality.

NBAE/Getty Images

This partnership represents a doubling down of NBA's VR efforts, despite indications it isn't actually working. Last year, the NBA began airing games with NextVR as part of a multiyear deal. 

So why do it?

Watching sports in  VR    has been hyped as the closest thing to actually being at a game, and I certainly felt that immersion when I've watched games that way. But it doesn't appear to be a big draw yet, despite the promise of watching the game through cameras strategically placed courtside and above the rims.

Ultimately, the NBA admits, fans haven't quite taken to the medium yet. The league won't even say how many people it's attracted. Still, it wants to be ready.

The NBA and NextVR said in April that the average viewing time per game last season jumped from 7 to 42 minutes, but that's much less than the three-hour average people catch on a TV broadcast.

"We see tremendous promise in immersive media," Jeff Marsilio, the NBA's associate vice president of global media, said about VR during a call Monday. "Whether it is bringing the cameras closer to the action, or incorporating new graphics, we want to make sure we have the best experience ready when that audience arrives."

For Intel TrueVR, the NBA is another notch in its growing sports portfolio. This includes showing Major League Baseball games, highlights of NFL games and the NCAA Final Four in VR. Intel also plans to show 16 events from the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February.

"We're learning as we go to make sure when fans put on that headset, they stay on for long periods of time," said James Carwana, Intel Sport's general manager.

Fans can catch reigning MVP Russell Westbrook's next big dunk using Samsung GearVR and Google Daydream headsets running on the NBA on TNT app. You will need to log in to your cable or satellite TV provider to watch.

Virtual reality 101: CNET tells you everything you need to know about VR.

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