YES Network App Continues Rapid Evolution With Addition of ‘Watch Party’ and More Dynamic Live Stats Features
Partners Ease Live, Sceenic power features driving up engagement time
With overall live sports streaming viewership numbers continuing to rise in 2021 and with more sports properties moving to streaming platforms, live sports rightsholders are continuing to develop new ways to make the live game more engaging and differentiated from the linear viewing experience.
Since launching its own app earlier this year, the New York City-based regional sports network YES Network, has been, perhaps, one of the more aggressive media companies when it comes to adding fresh and unique offerings designed to make the live streaming experience of watching a game a place that viewers want to stay and play around in.
Earlier this year, the app added live stats overlays and real-time polling for streams of New York Yankees games and now, with the NBA season underway, the digital team at YES is continuing to add new features and functionality for Brooklyn Nets games, including the continued growth of dynamic, interactive graphics and the introduction of a new “Watch Party” feature that allows users to host a live video chat with up to three friends inside the app as part of the live game feed.
“Engagement is what drives us,” says YES Network Head of Digital Media Kevin Sullivan, “having people actually use the tool is what drives us.”
Watch Party is another significant step forward in that direction of building a more engaging and participatory live streaming experience. With this new feature, users can video chat with two friends (three video feeds total) while watching the game in a synchronized experience. The service is cross platform (participants can be a mix of Apple and Android users) and offers a synchronized experience for all in the video chat.
Developed through a partnering with the London-based company, Sceenic, the YES Network digital team was also able to build an experience where a user of the app can simply text a link to other users, allowing for those guests to enter the live stream with a single click. Users also have the controls to adjust the volumes of both the live game broadcast and their friends’ video feeds to strike the perfect balance for their taste. Sceenic has been a developer of other co-watching and “Watch Together” live streaming pilots, including with BT Sport and with the top-flight Spanish soccer league LaLiga.
YES Network says it plans to take the Watch Party product to the next level by introducing celebrity pop-ins. For example, while chatting with friends, a former Brooklyn Net or a current YES Network analyst could pop into the chat and begin interacting with viewers. This is a fun layer that has yet to be implemented, but YES reps said it would be coming very soon.
As for live stats and dynamic graphic overlays, the YES App features a whole new collection of live elements that allow for users to dive into the data of the game and/or individual players with just a tap of the screen. The overlay is an optional addition to the livefeed, but, when utilized, adds depth to the game in the form of live real-time stats and even live polls.
The graphic overlays – which are integrated through a third party partner called Ease Live (which is owned by Evertz) were a feature available during Yankees season during the summer, but the YES team acknowledged that basketball has challenged the feature to be quicker and more robust.
“The game and the pace of basketball being so different than baseball [was the biggest thing we learned,] says Matt Duarte, senior director, strategy and business development, YES Network. “It was important to have the play-by-play continually animate up in the right hand corner, so as not to interfere with the actual game flow. The pace of the game being so much different than baseball, we think this optimized the customer experience in being able to both watch the game while surfing around and creating your own experience through the stats. This takes it up a notch compared to what we did for the Yankees.”
Sullivan agreed, noting that sometimes it could be as long as 30 seconds between pitches during a Yankee game, giving the app a longer on-ramp for offering continuously updated in-game stats. Basketball requires a much more rapid pace for the dynamic graphics to remain at pace and synchronized with the video feed. To accomplish that, Sullivan said that using ID3 tags (a type of metadata container that stores information into a media file, maintaining its consistency across diverse platforms and applications) was critical. In the case, the ID3 files pull data directly from the same live stats feed established by the NBA, thus automating the process.
“I think [the YES App] is a great achievement,” says Kjetil Horneland, CEO of Ease Live. “Our task was to see how could we innovate and have an impact on an OTT service like that, that really matters in terms of growth for driving viewing duration times. You’re looking to generate more ad inventory and to drive the commercial success of an offering like this. I think they’re quite unique in the sense that they’re really running fast and wanting to try to innovate the space a bit, so they’re really exploring that and adopting new ways of driving new revenue.”
The other notable change was moving the dynamic graphics overlay – which was available down the right side of the screen for baseball – and moving it to across the top of the screen. As with the Yankees version of “YES Edge” (the term given to the interactive graphics package), the design of the overlays were handled internally by YES Network Senior Director, Creative Design Rick Deutschman and his team to ensure a uniform look and feel between the streaming graphics and the broadcast graphics package.
“We wanted to make sure that it’s not a one-size-fits-all, but that its tailored to each of these experiences for each of the partners that we work with,” says Duarte. “I think that he and our team did an awesome job therecfrom an overall feel.”
“I’m biased but he knocked it out the park,” added Sullivan.
Both new features, as well as the overall presence of the app itself, have driven sizable increases in YES Network’s streaming engagement for live games. According to YES Network, more fans are streaming: this Nets season has already seen a +213% increase in streams per game YoY; and those viewers are sticking around longer as the average minutes watched per live game is up +130% for Nets games YoY.
Comparable growth was seen during the Yankees season as well where unique streams per game was up +246% and average minutes watched per game was up +145%.
“There was a lot that went into making sure that all of the collaboration between our partners and ourself made the design and the back end tech work to create the experience that we’re excited about and proud of,” says Duarte. “I don’t know of any other local rights owner who’s doing this. That’s really cool. Us pushing the envelope and trying to do more things and really beef up this experience for everyone is what’s going to drive our ecosystem going forward.”
All live games for the Brooklyn Nets, home games for Brooklyn’s G-League affiliate the Long Island Nets, as well as New York Yankees and NYCFC games are available to authenticated YES Network subscribers. The YES App is accessible on the Web, mobile, tablets and connected devices.
The app is available for download on iPhones and iPads in the App Store, and for Android Phones and Tablets on the Play Store. The YES App is also available on smart TVs via Apple TV, Android TV, Fire TV, and Roku.