NextVR CEO on the NBA, Samsung's Galaxy Note 7, and Beyond

Mobile-based virtual reality experiences are slipping into the mainstream after Santa delivered a sack full of headsets to early adopters. One area that is offering compelling programming and that has been successful in the early going is sport.

NextVR is in the vanguard in this arena, signing deals with existing broadcasters and creating live VR broadcasts of events ranging from the US Open Golf Tournament to pro boxing to the NBA.
 
This season NextVR teamed up with NBA Digital, the pro basketball league’s digital assets arm jointly managed by the NBA and Turner Sports, to create a live game of the week in VR via the NBA League Pass
 
While many VR experiences need to be tethered to powerful PCs, the NextVR broadcasts are delivered over headsets powered by mobile devices. The experience requires a subscription and is powered by a free app and supported by Samsung's Gear VR and Google's Daydream View. NextVR co-founder/CEO David Cole discussed the deal and outlook for VR with Open Mobile Media’s Robert Gray… 
 
OMM: Why do you think the NBA has been so receptive and innovative in broadcasting games in VR?
Cole: We’ve been working with the NBA for almost three years.
They’ve had a long time to understand what VR can bring to their fans and the game’s perfect for VR.
It checks all the boxes: it’s exciting as hell to watch it—it’s super engaging! (Basketball’s) a big ball, not a small ball so it’s easy to follow. You don’t have to bring the audience along; they just get it right away. You drop in and you get it. It’s great VR content.
 
For live, it’s arguably some of the best content in the world for virtual reality and (the NBA) saw it quickly.
 
OMM: Samsung is a big partner of yours, has the Galaxy Note 7 recall been a big problem for you?
Cole: It hasn’t. Samsung has been phenomenally good stewards. If it weren’t for that Note toe stubbing {the Galaxy Note 7 recall after several incidents of batteries exploding and some of the devices catching fire}, Samsung was ready to report profitability totally led by mobile. They have publicly attributed that it in large part to the success of the Gear VR headset giveaway driving sales of their flagship phones.
It was almost a flawless strategy, except for that unforeseen incident.
 
It’s one that other handset manufacturers have absolutely replicated because VR came along right at the moment when handset sales, in the global market for high-end flagship phones started to plateau and dive because people weren’t upgrading as much.
But VR was this great new shiny thing that required you to upgrade. It has worked for Samsung. They’re still phenomenal market leaders. Their product in the pipeline both on the headset and the phone side is benefited by how much experience they have. They’ve been in this market since September 2014. They know more than anyone else about the mobile handset market.
 
OMM: How much help did Peter Guber, an investor and NextVR board member who co-owns the NBA’s Golden State Warriors, give you?
Cole: We were pretty far along with NBA already, but he’s been incredibly helpful. Certainly having the owner’s support helps.
Sometimes I feel like we don’t want to push too many of those levers.
I will admit we feel at home in the Oakland arena when we want to test something, we go knock on their door. The players know us and will goof on the cameras.
The fans are super plugged in, as many sellouts as they have, the idea of churning out something virtually—they’re not having trouble filling seats there.
 
OMM: NextVR is also creating content beyond the NBA. How are those other deals shaping up?
Cole:Live Nation is a five-year deal right now. That’s a massive pipeline of content.
The perspective of being in the audience and then being with the band, it’s a powerhouse and that product is worth its weight in gold. We are super excited and I love it as much as basketball.
 
We have some product coming we’re really excited about on the travel and natural history front. Places that you might find incredibly interested to go but they’re a 24-hour flight away and you need a lot of shots or have to repel down a volcano.
We’re building product to air for an audience that’s used to watching long-form programming.
We’re looking at longer-form and episodic so you’re coming back to it (for repeat viewing). You’ll know the talent and the way the show is produced and will build viewer loyalty.
 
OMM: What are the opportunities for NextVR in creating ads and marketing opportunities for sponsors?
Cole: We’ve worked with NASCAR and Toyota and Lexus. Citibank has sponsored the first 10 Live Nation concerts. Some are “brought to you’s,” others are backstage with candid looks. You’ll see in the next quarter year the first VR interstitial where a broadcaster cuts away to commercial and we take you to another virtual world. You’re going to see that with a tidal wave of brands. The luxury watch, sports drink, sports car.
We will (shoot some ourselves) and there have been some agencies that came early to us. We’ve reached out to some agencies to let them know what is available.
 
It’s a revenue share (with the NBA).
One of the carrots we offer to partners, we know more about the VR viewing audience than just about anybody else.
We know when you put on the device, when you take it off, what causes you to roll off. Affinity to brand is easy to tell in the ways people use the product.
We have fairly in-depth information on our audience, data we can bring to our partners, so we don’t give it away.
 
OMM: Will VR allow you to sell an infinite number of seats to NBA games and other events?
Cole: Outside of the League Pass I think you’ll see some creativity on those “you can’t buy a ticket” games.