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Netflix just made its clearest move yet pursuing VR, gaming

And it could be inspired by, of all things, Bridgerton.

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Angela Lang/CNET

Netflix has made its most public display of interest in expanding into virtual reality and gaming, after years of batting away questions about pursuing VR and even more years of baby steps toward video games.

On Thursday, Netflix announced a new deal with Shonda Rhimes, a powerhouse television producer whose Bridgerton exploded on Netflix to become what the company says is its most-watched series ever. The deal tightens Netflix's relationship with Rhimes in several ways, like opening the door for feature films and investing in her company's programs to diversify Hollywood in front of and behind the camera.

But Netflix also said the Rhimes partnership includes the opportunity to exclusively produce and distribute potential gaming and VR content. 

The opportunity to pursue potential games and VR is far from a full-throated commitment. But it's still the clearest public statement so far that Netflix is interested in broadening into video games, a major entertainment category, and virtual reality, a fledgling one. 

Netflix declined to comment.  

The world's biggest streaming video service, with more than 207 million members, Netflix hinted recently that it would be interested in stepping up its pursuit of gaming. The company has flirted with games before through its interactive, choose-your-own-adventure-style programming like Bandersnatch and through some licensing and merchandising partnerships. But in April, Netflix's chief operating and product officer signaled that Netflix's interest in gaming may be advancing. 

"We're trying to figure out what are all these different ways ... we can deepen that fandom, and certainly games are a really interesting component of that," Greg Peters said. "There's no doubt that games are going to be an important form of entertainment and an important modality to deepen that fan experience."

As for virtual reality, Netflix has been standoffish for years. 

The format, which uses headsets to make viewers feel transported to an entirely different place, has gone through several cycles of hype as the next big thing, followed by doubt that it could ever become a mass media hit. Netflix executives have routinely expressed that the company wanted to wait and see how VR progressed before jumping in. 

For VR and video games on Netflix, the wait isn't over yet -- but it may be closer than we realized before. 

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