In addressing the state of the NBA to a roomful of reporters at Staples Center during All-Star Weekend, commissioner Adam Silver spoke of an event he attended elsewhere in Southern California that could very well ultimately mark a watershed in how the league’s games enter your living room.
It was four days earlier at Recode’s Code Media conference in Huntington Beach, Calif. when Silver announced that the NBA along with Tuner had partnered with mysterious mixed reality company Magic Leap to enhance the viewing experience for fans at home and outside of the United States.
“It’s not virtual reality, it’s not augmented reality, but in essence it’s a new way of looking at our players and the game, that, in essence, can bring it to our fans throughout the world,” Silver told reporters.
The NBA is experimenting with virtual reality, with live broadcasts of games that begin this week with Turner and Intel. The league has tried out augmented reality as well. Magic Leap by all accounts will be something different.
Imagine a world where looking through the upcoming Magic Leap headset you can see the real world and have control over what virtual elements you can add to the environment. With the Magic Leap Screens platform, you could place between four to eight virtual television screens in the room while watching different NBA games from a broadcast feed or the same game from different camera angles. Fans can track stats with data overlays and watch replays with these screens. Also in the room, you could place a virtual 3D basketball court on the coffee table or floor and watch the action magically play out as you look from above or even step on the court. A life-sized, virtual Shaquille O’Neal could hang out with you as well.
Want to go the kitchen to grab a drink? Pause the action. Want to head upstairs to retrieve an item? Feel free to have the game reappear there. After all, you can place the screens wherever you want — even on the beach. And all the while, you can see the real world, watching your children and pets as you view this NBA experience.
“You don’t lose the social aspect of being together,” Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz said.
That’s the vision Abovitz presented to the audience at Code Media, with Silver seated next to him, nodding. While live NBA games won’t be available when the Magic Leap One headset becomes available, there will be archived games available for viewing for the first iteration of the product. Abovitz said the vision he presented can become reality in the next one to two years.
The experience won’t be cheap. Asked if Magic Leap One was in the range of $1,000, Abovitz said, “It’s a premium computer, so I would think of it that way…Think higher-end mobile phone, a higher-end tablet zone is probably our floor.” Presenting the headset as a wearable computer that could replace the need for other devices, Magic Leap is looking to bring a next-generation viewing experience and has raised nearly $2 billion in venture funding.
The NBA as it continues to grow the game globally wants its fans to experience this magic. Silver noted that roughly one in seven people on the planet — a little more than a billion people — watched some portion of an NBA game last year across platforms. He said the league estimates its social media community globally to be about 1.4 billion.
“We recognize that we can’t scale our arenas; that our arenas are practically full everywhere, and certainly the courtside seats,” Silver told reporters. “The challenge for this league is how can we then bring that experience to our well over a billion fans around the world who will never get a chance to see a game in person. So technology and creating a more immersive experience for fans is something that we spend a lot of time on at the league office.”
Technology is in fact the major focus, he said. And Magic Leap could be the company that takes the NBA fan experience to another level.
“Just even recently, we used to say before we started getting involved with Magic Leap that the goal was to replicate that courtside experience,” Silver said at Code Media. “But then when Rony sort of brought his vision to us, it was, ‘Well, you can do even better than the Jack Nicholson courtside seat.’ As he was just describing, you can also have all kinds of screens of information available to you. So you’re watching the game and then you can instantly know statistics or probabilities.
“The vast majority of our fans don’t even live in the United States let alone get to an arena, and if you could the closest thing possible bring that experience to them through new technology, we think there’ll be enormous demand for it.”