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Inside Intel's big bet on Virtual Reality sports

A producer edits a 360-degree highlight.
A producer edits a 360-degree highlight. Photo: Ina Fried/Axios

As 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens threw for his first NFL touchdown Thursday night, a 2-man video crew from Intel was scrambling to create a 360-degree highlight so that Fox could broadcast it minutes later.

Why it matters: The immersive highlight is the latest evolution of technology Intel has been working on for the past couple of years, beginning with its 2016 purchase of Israel's Replay Technologies. Intel has bet big on sports, with then-CEO Brian Krzanich telling Axios last year that he saw it as a potential billion dollar business in the coming years.

Since then, Intel has sped up the time it takes to make its clips. It's also added a new option to show a highlight from any player's point of view, in addition to the signature view, which freezes the action and rotates 360 degrees for a panoramic image.

  • Fun note: For the second 49ers touchdown, minutes later, the crew decided to go with Mullens' point-of-view as he scanned the receivers before throwing to his eventual target.

Details: Intel's cameras are in 13 NFL stadiums (up from 10 last year), and it serves up highlights to broadcasters and teams as well as a dedicated page on NFL.com.

  • The company is also pushing ahead with another technology, TrueVR, that enables sports to be viewed in virtual reality, though the company has slowed its ambitions a bit as VR headset use has failed to live up expectations.

Yes, but: It's far from that point yet, with Intel and its rivals, as well as teams and leagues, still trying to find the right experiences that can either significantly complement, or be a viable alternative to, traditional TV broadcasts.

James Carwana, VP of Intel Sports, likens where the current state of his business to the early days of Netflix, when it was sending out DVDs through the mail, rather than streaming original content.

"I would argue we are in a similar phase."
— Carwana tells Axios
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