Turner Teams With Intel for NBA Virtual Reality

Turner Sports said it has signed a multi-year deal to use Intel’s technology to deliver live NBA games in virtual reality, starting with All-Star weekend.

The games will be available to cable and satellite subscribers for free via an authenticated NBA on TNT VR App powered by Intel.

Intel will also be a global provider of virtual reality and 360-degree volumetric video with Intel freeD technology for official NBA broadcast partners globally.

The NBA has jumped into the virtual reality space. Before the season started it announced that its League Pass subscribers will have access to 27 games in VR this season using NextVR technology.

“We all recognize that the VR market hasn’t fully materialized, but from the NBA’s point of view, we’d really like to be ready with the best possible experience when it does materialize,” says Jeff Marsilio, VP, Global Media Distribution, for the NBA. “The partnership represents another opportunity to experiment with a first-class VR technology company in Intel and to work with one of our longest-standing partners in the broadcast space with Turner.”

Marsilio says the NBA sees VR as a way to give fans access they might not otherwise not be able to experience, such as sitting courtside beside big-time celebrities. He says viewing of NBA games in VR is up sharply.

“That means there must have been a lot of progress in the last few months in penetration of the market and maybe, I hope, a lot of progress in the product we’re providing,” he says.

The virtual reality games will be different from the games TNT regularly televises. The schedule will be announced closer to the All-Star game. The first arenas to install the Intel freeD technology are the American Airlines Center in Dallas, home of the Mavericks, and Quicken Loans Arena, where LeBron James and the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers play home games.

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TNT will be producing custom promotional message that will air on the linear TNT network to promote the app,” says Will Funk, executive VP of property marketing and corporate partnerships for Turner Sports. The promos will have Intel branding integrated into them.

VR will also be promoted during games and on studio shows, which means there a good chance Turner’s Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal will be donning VR headsets on TV.

"Intel views itself as a data company, and virtual reality sports is one high-profile area where it can take advantage of its data-handling technology,” says James Carwana, VP and general manager of Intel Sports.

“When you look at the amount of data that comes off of our virtual reality and volumetric systems, it’s massive, and it’s something Intel Corp is well suited to,” Carwana says. “We want to make sure that we can be at the forefront of what we believe is the next-generation way to experience reality, which is immersive media.”

Intel also worked on VR during college basketball’s March Madness. It generates revenue with virtual tickets. Intel also produced some NFL games in VR and made a deal to sponsor the Olympics and produce events in VR from South Korea.

The VR games will contain ads for companies starting with Intel, but including other sponsors. “The important thing is we’re not going to insert regular 30-second commercials from linear TV into this experience,” says Turner’s Funk. “We’re going to create branded content and we’ll produce that in a way that’s organic and native to the platform so that the brands can communicate to viewers utilizing the same Intel technology.”

Virtual reality game experience will be available through the forthcoming NBA on TNT VR app on Samsung GearVR and Google Daydream headsets for download via the Oculus and Google Play stores.

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.