Digital Sportsplay: YES Network Keeps Taking Big Tech Swings

(Image credit: YES Network)

YES Network is celebrating the first anniversary of its streaming app by continuing to develop technological innovations to enhance sports fans’ viewing experience. 

The YES app, which launched last April and streams live New York Yankees baseball, Brooklyn Nets and New York Liberty basketball and New York City FC soccer action, is providing fans with unique, in-game interactive experiences with features such as in-game statistical overlays, watch party offerings, favorite player highlights and other information.

In March, YES added a free Pick-N-Play Live experience to Nets telecasts that allows users to predict in-game situations such as which players will score the most points in the game or which team will commit the next turnover. Users can keep track of their points through a live, onscreen leaderboard that’s updated during the live game telecast and compete for prizes like gift cards or team merchandise.

YES VP of strategy and business development Matt Duarte spoke to Multichannel News about the network’s continuing app development strategy. Here’s an edited transcript of that conversation.  

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MCN: How is YES Network positioning its app to increase usage and time spent on the offering?

Matt Duarte

YES Network's Matt Duarte  (Image credit: YES)

Matt Duarte: We see the app as a new way to connect with our existing audience in a more engaging way that has multiple touch points throughout the day. We have a finite inventory on our linear channel, but with the app there are multiple ways for us to engage with and create a unique viewing experience tailored to individual fans through the introduction of the things that we've done with respect to stats, overlays, watch party features and free-to-play games. Our latest Pick-N-Play Live game that we recently introduced allows the user to really customize how they would like to watch the game. Some people are really stats-heavy and want to watch that way, while some people want to talk to their buddies down the road — this allows them a way to make that happen. It’s really become a digital destination for all of our fans across our teams. We’re able to really push the envelope from a technological perspective to create the best possible experience throughout our game and our other content.

MCN: The Pick-N-Play Live offering is not quite gambling, but do you foresee an opportunity where the app could be used for legal gambling at some point?

MD: I think it's a really good question, but for now we're really in the first steps in terms of what we're trying to do with this product, which is really engagement and lengthening the amount of time that we can get our fans to interact physically with our product and our content. I think the name of the game for [Pick-N-Play] specifically is to increase that engagement and watch time, and also to provide motivation for a larger group of fans who like to gamify the experience to really come in and watch a few games. I think down the line it could be more of a conversation of how exactly strategically we want to play in that field, but right now it's all about engagement, playing to those competitive juices and trying to play some games and win some prizes. 

MCN: Is there one particular feature users are gravitating to on a nightly basis? 

MD: I think there's been growth across all of the different features, but specifically it’s the live stats, given its longevity in terms of how long we've had it and the ways that we've improved upon it from a design perspective. We’ve added a live pitch cast from last year’s Yankees season that allows users to actually see the location of the balls and strikes on the screen and see the different matchups between hitters and pitchers over the last few years. It almost looks like it's part of the actual linear broadcast which is cool.

In addition, you will see factoids and trivia questions about our game that our digital team curates throughout the course of the game, which is really cool as well. For big games and big moments, the watch party feature has been really popular. If there's a close game with five minutes in the fourth quarter, viewers can go in and then invite a friend to watch Kevin Duran hit a game-winning jump shot. It's a really cool experience to be able to do that. 

MCN: Is there a specific metric you can provide to quantify the app’s usage on a game-by-game basis?

MD: We introduced a favorite player feature where we actually allowed fans to go into the app and select their favorite players. At that point, we’re able to curate and send highlights and different content around those different players to the actual fan. Between that and the rollout of the watch party feature, we’ve seen a 53% increase in viewership for the app since the [February] NBA All-Star break in terms of unique viewers per game for the Nets. I’m not going to say that the team’s performance didn’t also help increase viewership during that time, but you can see that the fan base is obviously interested in using the features when they tune in. We’re hoping to capitalize on that momentum and that wave heading into the Yankee season.

MCN: Is there any concern that the app becomes so popular with fans that it actually siphons viewers away from the linear YES Network? 

MD: It's really a companion where you can watch not only the game, but also interact with it as a second-screen experience. We think those play really well, especially the free Pick-N-Play game. I think it's all about optionality and offering our fans access no matter where they are and on whatever platform they have to really expand that usage and make sure they can watch their favorite teams whenever they can. ■ 

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.