Networks will scatter cameras around the arena in places where fans would have sat, creating new viewing angles for viewers to experience at home. They’re also placing more microphones at court level to pick up the audio a loud crowd would normally drown out.

Select fans will appear virtually on video boards around the court: The league is using Microsoft video-conferencing technology to allow fans at home to see and interact with one another as if they were seated together in the arena. The players will be able to see and hear these virtual fans too.

The result will be at once intimate and eerie. Viewers will feel closer to the action than they’ve ever been, but the silence and awkwardness will hang over the court like a thick cloud. Games of huge consequence are not supposed to be played in quiet arenas with no one in attendance. This version of the NBA approaches something like an uncanny valley of sports viewing—familiar, but foreign in myriad ways.

nba microsoft
Image: Microsoft

WarnerMedia and Disney are just happy there is basketball to air at all. The pause on live sports has hurt all companies that rely on television advertising revenue tied to sports. AT&T, which owns WarnerMedia, revealed last week it lost nearly $200 million in TV ad revenue last quarter, due in large part to the NBA being off the air.

Both now have reason to be excited about the NBA’s return. Major League Baseball set TV ratings records when it returned on ESPN last week, proving US viewers are desperate to watch live sports. Basketball also reaches an advertising demographic other sports struggle with: young people. At about 42-years-old, the average NBA viewer is eight years younger than the average National Football League viewer, and 15 years younger than the average MLB viewer. The NBA is rising in popularity with even younger audiences who don’t watch much other TV.

None of the league’s 344 players have tested positive for Covid-19 since arriving at the isolation bubble within Disney’s Orlando, Florida sports complex, providing hope that—unlike MLB—the NBA can finish the remainder of its season without major incident. Now we find out if the sport’s triumphant return to TV goes as smoothly.

📬 Sign up for the Daily Brief

Our free, fast, and fun briefing on the global economy, delivered every weekday morning.