Can NBA in Virtual Reality Avoid 3D TV’s Fate?

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Photo of Zach Fuller
by Zach Fuller

US Sports fans will begin to see the fruits of the highly anticipated partnership between Next VR and Fox Sports this NBA season, following the announcement that the network will begin broadcasting one NBA game in VR per week. As exciting as the proposition of an immersive media experience could be for a league as dynamic as the NBA, a clear sticking point arises when we consider that audiences may feel that they have been here before with traditional broadcasters. The case in point being another new technology Pay-TV which was championed a few short years long ago: 3D TV.

The 3D TV gold rush in the UK began with a heavy marketing push from Sky Television in early 2010 over 3D Premier League games. In fairness to Sky, entertainment as a whole was in a post-Avatar stage of wonder with what 3D technology could produce, yet following a wave of channels picking up on the service, by July 2013 the BBC, announced that they were putting 3D broadcasts on hold due to a lack of audience interest. This included even those who had already invested considerable resources in acquiring ownership of 3D TV display technology.

Of course, three years is a lifetime in technology circles but not with the traditional broadcasters. These companies still engage older demographics on a subscription package with which they are accustomed utilising for a particular entertainment experience. Therefore pushing for VR integration through the same distribution platform avoids having to create new consumer behaviours which could hinder adoption.

Because fans had bought into a technology that was ultimately never meaningfully served with creative works makes 3D TV a pertinent parable from TV’s past. It is a warning from TV history for Virtual Reality proponents to consider the ramifications of pushing a technology before its ready for showtime. The 3d experience highlights the dangers in pushing early VR experiences onto demographics that are not only accustomed to traditional Television, but who are also potentially resistant to new technologies, due to a lingering sense of feeling somewhat swindled by the 3D hype. This should not detract from the successful prospect of sports broadcasting in VR – the proposition itself of being put courtside in the NBA of course remains dazzling. It remains imperative when evangelising VR to be reminded of the forces at play in the entertainment ecosystem and how miscalculations in VR’s mainstream rollout could have far reaching consequences for the wider industry.

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