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Google teams up with NFL to produce exclusive 9-part virtual reality series

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One might argue that, seated on a comfortable couch cushion in front of a big-screen TV and stellar stereo system, you could almost fool yourself into thinking you’re there, present in the televised moment. That goes double true for football, which has production values that far exceed those which spectators in attendance enjoy.

But a flat screen can only deliver so much. Enter virtual reality: on Thursday, the National Football League announced a new nine-part VR series bound for YouTube and Google’s new virtual reality platform, Daydream.

NFL called the programming an “expansion of [its] existing relationship” with Google” — last year, the NFL inked a multimillion-dollar deal with Google to promote clips, scores, interviews, and other live game stats on YouTube and in Google search results, the terms of which it renewed in May. The 5- to 10-minute episodes, the product of the league’s NFL Films and production company Two Bit Circus VR, will document the “life in and around the NFL — from players, to coaches, to executives, to cheerleaders, to the fans themselves — dealing how each prepares for game day,” the NFL outlined in a press release.

It’s an exclusive partnership, meaning the series won’t show up on rival virtual reality platforms (like Valve’s Steam VR) or headsets (like Samsung’s Gear VR and Facebook’s Oculus Rift) anytime soon. Google will contribute staff and equipment to the project, including its Jump 360-degree camera rig system. And it’s working with the NFL to optimize its content for Daydream.

It’s not the NFL’s first VR rodeo. The league piloted a VR program around the Superbowl. And the NFL isn’t the only professional sports league looking to expand its VR foothold. In October, the NBA announced a partnership with production house NextVR that’ll see it stream at least one regular season basketball game per week in VR to NBA League Pass subscribers.

Given VR’s potential, it’s really no surprise. Some analysts predict that VR and augmented reality have the potential to generate billions in revenue by 2020 — potentially as much as $150 billion. And they’re not the only ones. Facebook forked over $2 billion to acquire VR startup Oculus. Google’s venture capital arm invested $542 million in AR platform Magic Leap. And Taoyuan, Taiwan-based smartphone maker HTC earmarked $10 billion as part of an investment alliance aimed at VR businesses and content.

“Virtual reality is an emerging platform that enables content experiences with a truly unique vantage point that brings fans closer to the game,” Vishal Shah, senior VP of the NFL’s digital media division, told Variety. “We want to get better acquainted with the technology, the platform, the content we can actually create … and how our fans are engaging in the content and viewing it.”

The series premiers on YouTube first, on Thanksgiving Day, with a launch on the NFL’s Daydream app to follow “later this year.”

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