April 16, 2020
The National Basketball Association may be sidelined due to the coronavirus, but the league officials have been busy readying a new branded streaming service when play resumes.
The league April 16 announced a multiyear deal with Microsoft that includes development of a new direct-to-consumer streaming video service on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform.
The service, which will be co-managed by the NBA and WarnerMedia Entertainment’s Turner Sports, will incorporate “machine learning” and artificial intelligence to offer consumers personalized game streaming and TV broadcasts.
Machine learning is the study of computer algorithms that improve automatically through experience. It is seen as a subset of artificial intelligence.
Turner, along with ESPN, has a $24 billion, 10-year broadcast deal with the NBA that goes through the 2024-25 season.
“By creating a new platform that brings together all the things that make up being an NBA fan — whether that’s watching games, buying a ticket, participating in fantasy or buying merchandise, we can use that platform to re-imagine and diversify what it means to be an NBA fan,” Chris Benyarko, EVP of direct-to-consumer for the NBA, said in a statement.
The NBA currently offers standalone streaming access to out-of-market games through its League Pass SVOD service. The new service with Microsoft would enhance League Pass’ camera angles; multiple game audio options, including a social media influencer calling the game or listening to the game in a different language; and interactive trivia and questions during game telecasts.
“Imagine all of those features now being on a platform that’s able to use deep ‘machine learning’ AI capabilities to serve those up to a user; so instead of the fan having to pick and choose and turn them on or off one by one, the platform is now starting to behave like a game producer, automatically selecting and presenting the game in a different way,” Benyarko said.
The Azure platform aims to create a more personalized fan experience that tailors the content to the preferences of the fan, rewards participation, and provides more insights and analysis.
“The AI eventually learns that I like to learn about stats, so it’s going to start presenting me more information about stats as I go into the game,” said Deb Cupp, VP of enterprise and commercial industries at Microsoft. “It’s this experience where instead of just watching a game, it actually has the opportunity to interact in a way that matters to me as that fan; it’s enriching the experience and frankly just makes it more valuable to me.”
The platform will enable users to set up an account and enter preferences — favorite team, favorite players, statistics, history, trivia and gaming — the software can then customize to that user.
The platform claims to allow users to catch up on games and personalized information they most care about.
“To me, that is what describes the fan engagement,” Cupp said. “It allows me to interact the way I want to interact, at the time I want to interact.”
While the 2020-21 season remains on hiatus due to the coronavirus, the NBA’s collaboration with Microsoft will expand next year with the software behemoth becoming the Official Artificial Intelligence Partner and an Official Cloud and Laptop Partner for the NBA, WNBA, NBA G League, and USA Basketball.
“Together, we’ll bring fans closer to the game and players they love with new personalized experiences powered by Microsoft Azure,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement.