Bleacher Report Live Set To Help Fans Find Live Content Anytime, Anywhere
Free previews and micro transactions could be the start of something big
Bleacher Report Live is set to launch on April 7, and, for Turner President David Levy, the important milestone fulfills a vision for Bleacher Report that extends back six years to when Turner Sports acquired the company for more than $175 million.
“When we acquired Bleacher Report, we envisioned a time when it could become a digital-first network, and that time is now,” Levy says. “At Turner, we have made investments in both premium content and delivery platforms, which have us positioned for current and future success.”
The focus at Bleacher Report Live (B/R Live) will be not only on engaging fans with the content Turner Sports has the rights to but also on helping them find the live coverage of an event they want, regardless of which channel or service provider it is on. Fans will be able to select an event and see which channel it is on based on their provider and even which radio station or satellite-radio channel it is on.
Says Turner Sports President Lenny Daniels, “B/R Live will help fans find the game they want, period. It will help them connect to it live, wherever it is, even the sports bar for viewing parties of like fans.”
He notes that the Turner Sports’ Catch Sports app, which provides the information for finding out where to watch an event, will be folded into B/R Live. The B/R Live difference will be the integration of live video content from an event within the user interface. When rights allow, the user will be able to not only scroll through a scoreboard but watch live coverage and then, if desired, purchase the event or get authenticated.
“If you think fan first, you have to realize that we’re not going to own all the sports — nobody will — but there needs to be a really cool place to find the sports you want to find,” Daniels adds. “The beauty is, we have iStreamPlanet, which will handle the streaming and also provides the frontend architecture. So it’s all in-house, and they know where we want to get.”
Among the thousands of live sports events available directly through the service will be the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, NBA League Pass games, 65 NCAA Championships, PGA Championship, National Lacrosse League, The Spring League, Red Bull Global Rallycross, and World Arm Wrestling League.
NBA League Pass, in particular, will provide an innovative, first-of-its-kind experience, allowing fans to purchase and watch NBA games in progress at a reduced price. Available on B/R Live, the NBA App, and NBA.com, the new offering for all NBA League Pass games will debut for the 2018-19 regular season.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was at the B/R Live launch event and discussed the NBA’s decision to allow fans to pay for, say, the final five minutes of a game for a price that is less than the price for a full game.
“We took a page from the virtual world of videogames, which use micro transactions,” he explains. “It might be 7:30, and the fan might be able to watch only a portion of the game. It’s not fair to pay the full price when they can only watch five or 10 minutes. We will sell the fans what they want.”
Adds Daniels, “If you’re a lacrosse fan, you should be able to find lacrosse and then pay for the lacrosse game at a price that you would expect to pay. But it’s no longer, you have to buy [what you don’t want] to get what you want. And the other cool thing about this product is, we will quickly learn what people want and don’t want, thanks to a personalization engine.”
B/R Live will initially launch with all streaming content available as part of a free preview period in the opening months of the product. The first event available will feature Johnny Manziel’s debut in The Spring League on Saturday April 7. B/R Live will launch on iOS, Android, and the Web.
B/R Live will fully leverage the Bleacher Report brand and its ability to reach and connect with millennial and Gen Z fans. Tapping into mainstream sports properties with avid fanbases and into niche sports with passionate communities, B/R Live will provide a gateway for content to be enjoyed by all audiences.
“Two years ago, Turner Sports made plans to invest $100 million into our business, and we have seen an incredible impact and have been able to double down on premium content,” says Bleacher Report CEO/co-founder Dave Finocchio. “Our brand is known for the ability to consume and share content, and we captured the intersection of sports and culture. And our audience is young: we have 250 million monthly users, and 75% of them are under the age of 35.”
Since being acquired by Turner in 2012, Bleacher Report has become the leading digital destination for millennial sports fans. Through its development and distribution of premium original content, such as Game of Zones and Gridiron Heights, and strategic investments — including acquisition of the widely popular House of Highlights platform — B/R has established itself as an influential brand that drives the connection between sports and culture.
The original content that Bleacher Report has created will not be part of the B/R Live experience so that the engagement of fans with live content can remain the focus. And Daniels says the hope is that competing sports-rights holders will strike deals that allow B/R Live to have the type of deep links that enable a sports fan to click within the B/R Live application and be brought to, say, WatchESPN.
“Our hope is, they see value in this and they don’t see it is a competitor,” he adds. “They want people to watch the events on their platform, and it is perfectly fine with us to send people to their platform. Our goal is to enable a holistic view from discovery to delivery.”
Bleacher Report Live GM Hania Poole points out that an important goal was the make B/R Live’s video experience as easy and frictionless as possible. That begins with algorithms and machine learning to know what the fan wants and then to seamlessly deliver video “by giving users five free minutes of preview and auto playing across platforms,” she says. “Users are dropped immediately into the live action: no clicking, no tapping, no waiting. Just into the live stream.”
In addition, if the user decides to make a purchase for a complete event, the purchase can be made with in-app payments or payment fields that slide in next to the event, allowing the user to make the payment without missing the action. “And, on mobile,” Poole adds, “you can share an event with a friend via text, and the link can take them directly to a live stream.”
Levy calls it the latest effort to reach fans who want to be untethered from networks and want flexibility in finding the consumption experience they want. “Fans crave content that captivates them, and we want to drive innovation that places the fan first.”