NBA TV Takes Fan Engagement to Next Level With Social-Centric ‘Fans Only’ Telecast
There will be no play-by-play caller but plenty of social-media content, fan interaction
In the age of ubiquitous mobile devices and social-media interaction, sports broadcasters have found it increasingly difficult to keep fans engaged during live game telecasts. Rather than fight it, Turner Sports and NBA TV aim to embrace the connected fan with a first-of-its-kind production format, dubbed Fans Only, debuting for the Minnesota Timberwolves at Los Angeles Lakers game this Friday.
The Fans Only telecast will incorporate a constant stream of fan-driven content, including social conversation and instant polling, displayed in a multibox L-screen graphic throughout the game. In lieu of traditional play-by-play announcers, Fans Only will feature additional graphics (signaling simple occurrences like “turnover” or “personal foul”) to help narrate the action. Along with significant fan involvement onsite at the STAPLES Center, NBA TV’s studio team will take phone calls from viewers on-air, react to social-media content, and let fan polls determine what is featured next in the telecast.
“Everyone knows that it’s a challenge right now for TV networks to engage with the fans and find ways to keep their attention throughout these games,” explains NBA TV Executive Producer John O’Connor. “We believe it’s now up to us to listen to them, find out what they want to see and when, and then react to that. That’s the main philosophy for this game. I equate it to how fans are engaged on their phones during games; we are trying to bring that type of engagement to the TV screen.”
The Graphics: On-Screen Layout and Social-Media Integration
NBA TV will feature an L-shaped graphic throughout the telecast; the action on the court will never go full-screen. The left vertical panel will display social-media content (from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat), and a scorebug and instant poll results will be displayed along the bottom. In addition to displaying the social-media conversation in general, NBA TV has recruited “social influencers” from around the country and will periodically incorporate them into the telecast.
“One thing we discussed a lot is that we don’t want to alienate the viewer because the full-screen experience is very important to fans. We understand that,” says O’Connor. “We have decided we are going to have the L-shaped screen the whole time and not switch between full-screen and the L-screen. That would drive the fan even crazier. You’re going to see it the whole game, but you won’t miss any game action whatsoever.”
Because the Lakers-Timberwolves game coverage won’t have an announcer or analyst, NBA TV will display lower-third graphics throughout the game.
“We won’t have traditional play-by-play or announcers, but, obviously, we still need to tell the story of the game,” says O’Connor. “The game will be dictated more graphically for fans at home watching the game, so they know what’s going on. You will see extra lower-third graphics coming off the scorebug, like a turnover, out of bounds, and two-shot foul. Things that you’d normally take for granted when an announcer is calling the game we will now accentuate a little bit more with graphics so people aren’t lost.”
The Talent: Onsite at STAPLES Center and Back Home in the Studio
Throughout the telecast, host Casey Stern and analysts Grant Hill and Brendan Haywood will help guide the viewer through the telecast (the cast from NBA TV’s The Starters will also be featured in the studio). In addition, Dennis Scott will be in the stands, and Nate Robinson will roam the concourse interviewing celebrities and engaging with fans.
“Onsite at STAPLES, Dennis Scott and Nate Robinson will play a prominent role in the broadcast,” says O’Connor. “We have done some initiatives in the past, like Players Only, where we had Dennis Scott onsite, but he will be much more focused on the fans in the arena for this [telecast]. He will also talk to celebrities about being a fan and what it’s like to show up to these games all the time as a celebrity.”
In the studio, NBA TV will be real-time polling fans throughout the telecast to determine what segment they would like to see next from Stern, Hill, and Haywood.
“We’re going to react to these instant polls with our content,” O’Connor notes. “Via our NBATV social handle, we will ask the fans if they would rather see an on-court demo from Grant and Brendan about a specific shot or the two of them just breaking down the game. We’ll do a quick poll, and, coming out of the next break, we will be doing [the segment] they voted for.”
Stern, Hill, and Haywood will also be taking calls live from fans via a hotline, incorporating social influencers, and chatting with The Starters.
Inside the Truck: The Fans Will Direct the Director, Producer
With multiple sources of content to manage — the game itself, interviews in the arena, in-studio segments, and social-media content, plus fan polling determining much of the rundown — Fans Only poses a very different dynamic for producer Stephen Lindsey and director Bert Bondi. To streamline the operation, NBA TV will have multiple producers managing various facets of the production and helping funnel the most relevant content to Lindsey at the front bench.
NBA TV will also air preproduced pieces within the telecast (for example, Scott doing a live standup at the top of every quarter), but O’Connor’s goal is a “free-flowing” broadcast that reacts to the game and the social-media conversation in real time.
“It is absolutely a different broadcast than anyone’s experienced,” says O’Connor. “The workflow is completely different, and it’s a totally new dynamic for the front-bench producer. There’s going to be content flying around behind the scenes, but, with a lot of prep, we believe we will be ready for anything that happens.”
Looking Ahead: Incorporating Fan Feedback — and Criticism — Into the Telecast
The Fans Only concept builds on Turner Sports’ successful Players Only franchise, and more new formats designed to keep NBA fans tuning in to linear TV could be in the offing. For now, the Lakers-Timberwolves game is the only Fans Only telecast on NBA TV’s schedule. However, NBA TV plans to incorporate fan feedback (and even criticism) of the Fans Only format into the telecast on Friday night.
“To be perfectly honest, we’ve never done this, so we’re going to find out how well it works,” says O’Connor. “But one thing that is key is that we’re going to be transparent with what’s working and what’s not working. We are going to ask the fans that night, is it too many graphics or not enough? We want direct one-on-one communication with the fans, so they feel like they are engaged in the broadcast and know that we are listening to their feedback. We will absolutely talk about that on the air during the broadcast.”