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NextVR Showing Virtual Reality Possibilities During NBA, NHL Finals

Photo Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Photo Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

NextVR’s push to bring immersive experiences to sports fans has taken another step this year, as the company is providing highlights for both of the ongoing NBA and NHL finals.

This is the first time NextVR has provided on-demand virtual reality highlights of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals, and the third time it has done so for the NBA Finals. The NextVR NHL and NBA experience is free on the NextVR app, which is available on most virtual reality platforms.

“The fact we’re doing both the NBA Finals and Stanley cup is extraordinary,” said Danny Keens, NextVR vice president of content. “Not many media companies take on both leagues at the same time in this premier time, and for a relatively small startup, it’s a huge undertaking.”

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While NextVR has been creating and distributing its virtual reality content for several years, Keens feels this year is a major introductory period as new technologies made their debut in time for the holiday season, now allowing for those users to find their way court-side and on the glass for the conclusion of the NBA and NHL seasons.

The NHL and NextVR signed a partnership in January, a deal that has provided fans digital highlights from league tentpole events like the all-star game. NextVR’s “Goalie Experience” viewpoint essentially takes fans inside the glass with behind the net, Keens said, which he claims makes them feel the hits.

During the regular season the past three years, NextVR has broadcasts full NBA games once a week, but in the Finals, the platform can only provide five-minute highlight packages because of ESPN owns the league’s domestic broadcast rights.

“The NBA Finals is the most anticipated event of our season, and we are excited to once again partner with NextVR to deliver innovative VR highlights following each game,” NBA SVP of New Media Distribution Jeff Marsilio said in a statement. “NBA fans will have the opportunity to experience the Finals in a unique and immersive way.”

Those three years of NBA coverage has taught the NextVR team plenty. Keens said to keep users undivided attention in a world with short attention spans, especially with highlights, so curation is important.

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“You don’t want to make people have to work hard for a narrative in VR,” Keens said. “You have to put storylines together, making sure there’s graphics, reaction shots to understand the context. That’s critical.”

Likewise, camera position is important as virtual reality as they can’t zoom. The NHL and NBA both understood that and provide vital access for cameras, Keens said. And audio is also crucial to creating the all-immersive experience.

“It’s an unforgiving medium, it needs attention 100 percent of the time, there’s no room for error,” Keens said. “It’s easy to become disengaged, it’s a challenge in a world of bite-sized content. But the good thing is we have the learnings around what keeps them in and how to harvest their attention in a way that is challenging for media companies all over competing owning and sharing eyeballs.”

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For the productions, Keens said NextVR’s process is similar to that of a TV broadcast, complete with production trucks. Following the. games, traditional edit teams make the highlight packages.

NextVR doesn’t release specific numbers, but Keens is consistently encouraged by viewership growth with spikes year-over-year as new devices are released. As technologies and content production continue to improve, he’s confident those numbers will only keep growing.

“One of the things I love about VR is we’re ultimately in the position to bring an entirely new concept that you can teleport people,” he said. “It will change, already is changing, what fans expect in broadcasts. VR can deliver on that promise to bring fans closer than ever.”

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