BT Sport has decided to add Facebook to its distribution channels for the January 12 broadcast of the National Basketball Association (NBA) game between the Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers to be played in London.
The move follows concerns within the sports industry that younger viewers are shunning sports programming, and alarming drops in ratings for major sports such as the National Football League (NFL) and English Premier League football over the course of 2016. (See Is Sports Programming Losing Its Edge?)
While the decline could be attributed to other factors, such as the US elections and the Olympics cannibalizing time, viewers and ratings from other sporting events, there is also research to suggest younger viewers rate sports lower than previous generations. (See Are Sports Economics to Blame for Declining Viewership?)
Some programmers believe that younger viewers are less interested in watching entire games, but would rather get updates and short clips of the kind seen in highlight reels. This fits in better with a social media environment, and social platforms would also allow for interaction with friends about the game. However, BT Sport will simply live stream this game, although it will allow for social interaction as it will be streamed on Facebook.
BT Sport broadcasts up to seven live NBA games per week throughout the regular season, including a full slate of games in prime-time in the UK as part of the NBA Sundays campaign. The match-up on January 12 is a regular-season NBA game, and the seventh such game played in London. It is part of the NBA Global Games, a series of basketball games with NBA teams played outside the US. The goal is to bring NBA teams to play either foreign clubs or each other in different venues and help popularize the sport internationally.
BT Sport has used this event in the past to experiment with new technologies. It even partnered with Facebook for the same event previously, but not for streaming the game. It was for the "BT Sport Facebook Lounge" in 2015, featuring live appearances from special guests attending the NBA game. In 2016, BT Sport, the NBA and Rogers broadcast the NBA Global Games London in 4K resolution, making the NBA the first league to offer a game in 4K. During the same game, BT Sport ran a trial using virtual reality (VR) to deliver multiple viewing angles during the game. (See BT Sport's COO Discusses AR/VR.)
While 4K/UHD is taking off, bandwidth requirements remain a concern. VR and social live streaming are still very much at an experimental stage, particularly for broadcasters and sports leagues. Use cases and business models still need to be determined. But now is the time to experiment, and determine audience interest and engagement levels for different approaches.
It will be interesting to see how many viewers this experiment attracts, and whether there is any significant brand benefit for BT Sport. Current wisdom would suggest that each platform requires its own approach to content development, and simply bringing live broadcasts to Facebook won't work -- the content must be optimized for the Facebook platform/user. But the only way to find out is to do it, and BT and the NBA are both being aggressive in their attempts to move the needle on this front.
— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation