- Microsoft and the National Basketball Association (NBA) are teaming up on a new streaming service that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to deliver personalized live games and other sports content to viewers, the tech company announced in a press release.
- The platform will be built on Microsoft Azure's cloud computing service and use cognitive search and data analytics to surface videos from the NBA's archives based on each user's viewing history and location. It will include NBA League Pass, the subscription service that unlocks out-of-market games, and will effectively become a revamped version of the NBA App, Variety reported.
- Within the deal, Microsoft will become the "Official Artificial Intelligence Partner" and an "Official Cloud and Laptop Partner" for the NBA, WNBA, NBA G League and USA Basketball, starting with the 2020-21 season. It's unclear when the streaming platform will launch.
The NBA seems to be using its downtime during the coronavirus-related cancellations to reimagine the future of its over-the-top (OTT) broadcasting experience.
Through striking a partnership with Microsoft, the league's new streaming service aims to transform the fan experience at home via data, AI and machine learning to deliver more personalized experiences and content to sports fans. The platform borrows some concepts from video games, Variety notes, such as overlaying real-time statistics on video and allowing users to select alternative audio feeds. It will also integrate ticketing, merchandise and social media as the league looks to more deeply connect with its existing audience of 1.8 billion followers.
The streaming platform will reportedly include a loyalty feature in which fans can earn points for watching games, sharing content and making purchases. These points could potentially be redeemed for merchandise, tickets and exclusive content. Building out a streaming service that rewards viewership and active participation may help the NBA to drive deeper engagement with at-home fans, especially as most people are hunkered down at home due to coronavirus-related social distancing.
The NBA has previously used gamified approaches to live broadcasts in order to snag younger viewers' attention. ESPN tested a Twitch-like alternate telecast on mobile for last year's NBA Finals. In 2017, the NBA livestreamed G League games on Twitch, featuring interactive overlays, a loyalty program and co-streaming option for some Twitch personalities to share their own live commentary.
Once the pandemic subsides, sports may look different than in the past, with potentially no live audience or socially distanced viewing for some games in the early days. Platforms and brands are currently exploring fresh ways to connect with sports fans at home, including social media entertainment and sweepstakes and esports. Now, Microsoft has an opportunity to showcase what this world of sports could look like and potentially take its new gamified streaming model to other leagues.