The service’s arrival will be timed to that of a new spring pro football league, whose player ranks include former college standout Johnny Manziel. Initially available on iOS, Android and through the Bleacher Report website, with other distribution options in the works, B/R Live will offer a free preview for several weeks before phasing in what the company called “flexible pricing options.”
Unlike the forthcoming ESPN Plus and many of the other 200-plus subscription OTTs with monthly flat rates, B/R Live will introduce some interesting new pricing wrinkles. Viewers with or without cable subscriptions will be able to enter credit card information as live game action continues on their screen and sign up for access to an individual game, season or sports league. Access to portions of NBA games is also in the plans beginning with this fall’s start of the 2018-2019 season, which will be especially novel. Those partial games will be offered through NBA League Pass, the league announced today. League Pass will be available at a reduced rate via B/R Live and also offered through NBA.com and the official NBA app. (Turner and the NBA have jointly operated the NBA’s website and many of its digital operations over the past decade.)
“Let’s sell the fan what it is they want,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who appeared at Turner’s launch event at Bleacher Report’s loft-like offices in the former Paramount building in Midtown Manhattan. “We’re still experimenting with pricing,” Silver added, but he floated one scenario of 99 cents for a 5-minute portion of a game and $7 for a full game. Fans would be alerted to a close score or an individual performance and be induced to tune in, as they do for other on-demand attractions. “Just like a movie, it may be somewhat spontaneous,” Silver said.
Execs offered a brief demo of the service, which will promote Turner’s offerings, which as of now include the NBA, NCAA tournament basketball (including this weekend’s Final Four), soccer, golf and lacrosse. Like all rights bidders, Turner is jockeying for compelling sports and has been mentioned as a possible destination for NFL games, such as Monday Night Football. A social media-style “feed” showing game scores and other news updates will fill a column on the left side of the screen, suiting the sports-fan habit of monitoring other games.
“Everyone knows viewing habits are continuing to change,” said David Levy, president of Turner. “And we must adapt.” Levy said the OTT service was a scenario envisioned from the early days after Turner acquired Bleacher Report in 2012. The OTT fits with the strategy to generate “content that is untethered to the television networks.”
Along with Turner, ESPN, NBC, CBS and other networks are racing to shore up their viewership levels as digital options proliferate. Maverick online brands like Barstool Sports and others have leeched away some of the fans once controlled exclusively by the networks airing live game coverage. In many cases, digital rights are becoming separate from linear broadcast rights, as in the case of the NFL’s Thursday night games, which have streamed on Amazon and Twitter in recent seasons.