Using virtual reality to get a courtside seat

NextVR virtual reality headset
Source: NextVR

There were some 20,000 fans at Oracle Arena last night watching the Golden State Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers. But, if Warriors owner Peter Guber has his way, millions more around the world could soon feel like they have a courtside seat at the games.

Guber is a leading champion of virtual reality (VR) technology in which users, wearing a head-mounted display, feel as if they're immersed in 3-D environments. The technology could radically change the way sports fans experience the thrill of a live basketball game, Guber believes.

Warriors fans, for instance, could strap on the headset at home, and feel as if they're at the game; courtside tickets can now reportedly cost $50,000.

"It doesn't replace being here," Guber told CNBC. "That's still a different experience. But it is a phenomenally new and exciting method to bring basketball to disparate communities all over the country."

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Guber, who is also the CEO of Mandalay Entertainment Group and an owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, isn't just an advocate of VR technology. He's also an active investor.

He's put money to work in a company called NextVR. The Laguna Beach, California-based company aims to capture and deliver live, on-demand VR content for users. Guber says the price of the service isn't finalized, but the technology should be publicly available within the next 12 months.

Guber, who declined to say how much he's investing in NextVR, acknowledges that the company will have to sign partnership agreements with content providers such as the NBA, but he expects those to deals to get done.

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"We are confident that we will have the appropriate associations with the content providers," he said. "They want this experience for their fans."

Virtual reality is one of the hottest tech trends in Silicon Valley. Its supporters say it could revolutionize industries from entertainment to education. Fans could virtually sit at the 50-yard line at an NFL game; attend a lecture at a university halfway around the world; or listen to music in the front row at a concert.

A number of tech companies are now investing in VR, including Google, Samsung, Sony and GoPro. Digi-Capital, a tech advisory firm, says this could be a $30 billion market by 2020.

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Still, skeptics argue that, for all the hype, broad consumer adoption of virtual reality technology is many years away. In part, they note that the technology remains relatively expensive. Facebook-owned Oculus, for instance, says it will charge $1,500 when its product ships in the first quarter of next year.

Guber dismisses those concerns, however, arguing that the cost of the technology will decline while the benefits accrue for users.

"This is a real opportunity to expand the marketplace," he said. "That is what you have to do. I have to provide new benefits for my Warriors fans and baseball fans. I have to be innovative."