NEW YORK — The NBA uses its developmental G League to experiment with possible changes to its product. Starting Friday, it will be testing it as a way to promote a new way of watching — and interacting — with its games.
The league announced Wednesday morning that it is beginning a partnership with Twitch to stream select games each week, with commentary initially coming from more than a dozen of the site’s most popular personalities. Twitch, a social media and video platform, has become wildly popular with video gamers and boasts more than 15 million daily active viewers.
During the 2017-18 regular season, Twitch will feature up to six NBA G League games streaming live each week. After each live broadcast, the games will be available on demand.
The partnership, which will make the G League the first league to utilize some of Twitch’s technological innovations, could be looked at as a precursor to a day when the NBA has game broadcasts in which viewers have a choice among a host of commentator options for the game, as opposed to listening to the play-by-play host assigned by networks.
“Our deal with Twitch will be groundbreaking,” NBA G League President Malcolm Turner said in the release promoting the announcement. “By leveraging fan commentary, new technology and a passionate community, Twitch elevates video in a unique, engaging way that resonates with young viewers. We look forward to collaborating with their team to create something truly special for basketball fans.”
At first, Twitch will roll out the service featuring only some of its most prominent users from both the United States and around the world. It will allow users to “co-stream” — which would allow them to, among other things, show the feed of the game while talking about it, much like a regular play-by-play of a game. Others watching the stream can then comment on the broadcast as it is going on.
Twitch will also create an extension for the G League, which will have capabilities like allowing fans to access stats for players or teams from both the game and the entire G League season.
Over time, the plan is for the co-stream service to be rolled out to the wider Twitch community.
“From Day 1, the NBA team got what Twitch is all about. We aren’t a traditional sports experience on TV; we are much more,” Michael Aragon, Twitch’s senior vice president of content, said in the release. “From our broadcasters to our engaged community to our interactive product that brings everyone together, collaborating with their team is going to bring a unique experience to basketball fans worldwide. We are thrilled to be working with the NBA G League and look forward to seeing the impact of social video on mainstream sports.”
This isn’t the first time the NBA has been associated with such an idea. In September, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver spoke here at the Code Commerce event, saying he thinks that the ways sports are broadcast haven’t changed in 30 years — and that Twitch has the ability to start changing that.
“I mean, high definition [television] has made a huge difference,” Silver said, “but if you look at the basic way games are broadcast, there’s a mid-level play-by-play camera that follows back and forth and two end zone cameras that can follow the action and others. But it looks pretty much the same way it always has.
“Now if you think about, if anyone here is a gamer, if you go on Twitch, for example, and see what it’s like to follow those competitions, it’s sort of constant chatter of fans, there’s all kinds of other information appearing on the screen. I think to older consumers used to looking at sports it might look incredibly cluttered, but as Facebook and other services experiment with live sports rights, and I’m sure Amazon’s going to be doing the same thing, I think they don’t have the same limitations cable and satellite historically have had.”
That being said, the NBA won’t be changing the way its games are being broadcast anytime soon, because it will be several more years until the league’s current national television contract with ESPN and Turner Sports expires.
The NBA has also yet to decide how it will be broadcasting its upcoming NBA 2K video game league, which will begin play in May.
(Twitch is owned by Amazon.com; Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos is the owner of The Washington Post.)
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