Turner Sports Takes Swing at Streaming Pay-Per-Game Offering

This weekend Turner Sports will be focusing its attention on cable network TBS'  carriage of the “March Madness” college basketball  Final Four and Championship games, but earlier this week the company provided its over-the-top vision for streaming marquee, live sports events. 

Turner's Bleacher Report Live streaming sports service, which launches on April 7, will look to differentiate itself from other OTT cable sports entries from CBS Sports (CBS Sports HQ) and ESPN (ESPN+) by offering a "flexible pricing" option to watch live sports content.

After an unspecified "free period," the service this summer will offer  ”thousands” of live sports programming on a pay-by-game or subscription package basis featuring games from such sports properties as NBA League Pass, UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League soccer, the National Lacrosse League, The Spring League and the World Arm Wrestling League. 

Typically, OTT streaming services require a monthly subscription for access to all content available – ESPN Plus for example will feature a  $4.99 subscription fee when it launches later this spring. Turner Sports is betting that younger sports fans will be more apt to purchase and watch individual live sports programming than pay a monthly charge.

Turner Sports president David Levy said that millennial sports fans in particular will have no problems deciphering and navigating between Bleacher Report Live's free offerings -- which will allow users to personalize the service to find info on their favorite sports teams' games on any platform -- and the service's pay options.

 “I grew up with cable; my parents grew up with broadcast television – the millennials and generation Z’s have been brought up on the Internet,” Levy said. “That’s not going to be a problem.” 

Bleacher Report Live will take the pay-per-game offering a step further this fall by allowing NBA fans to tune into a portion of any game in progress at a reduced, as yet unspecified price from the $7 per game fee charged by the league's "League Pass" out-of-market subscription package.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said during Turner Sports' press conference last Tuesday that the micro-transaction approach -- which will launch with the 2018-19 NBA season -- adds more flexibility for fans who watch on average about 50 minutes of a two and a half-hour game. 

“We know that most fans are not watching an entire game,” Silver said. “We all recognize that if we were designing our products from scratch today I’m not sure we wouldn't design them in the same way because people’s attention spans are shorter. I think this notion of micro transactions will catch on with all programmers.”

Indeed, In Demand senior vice president of programming and business development Mark Boccardi said the micro transactions could be an offering that could  punch up additional interest among younger viewers in sports league out-of-market packages such as NBA League Pass,  MLB.TV,  NHL Center Ice and NFL Sunday Ticket. 

“This is a great testing phase that the industry is in to figure out what connects with customers and fans,” Boccardi said. “All these packages are mature businesses, so I think everybody from the rights holders to the broadcasting networks to distributors are trying to figure out what we can do to help grow the overall product.”

Levy said that Bleacher Report Live package provides an opportunity for Turner Sports to speak directly to consumers with a service that can be tailored to avid sports fans' interests. 

“We know there are rabid fans for the sports content that we have, and we know that people will pay to see them.”

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.