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Twitter to Live-Stream NBA Games — Featuring a Camera Feed of a Single, Fan-Voted Player

Twitter is doubling down on its strategy of complementing TV rather than trying to eat into television audiences.

Under a new partnership inked by the NBA, Turner Sports and Twitter, the second halves of 20 NBA games that air on TNT this season will be live-streamed on Twitter (via @NBAonTNT). The wrinkle: The live feed will feature a single-player, isolated camera view. Fans will vote on Twitter for the player they want to see featured during the live stream of select regular-season and playoff games airing on TNT as well as the 2019 NBA All-Star Game.

But will a 24-minute half of an NBA game with the camera trained on just, say, LeBron James or Stephen Curry the entire time draw a sizable audience? The idea is to provide a new entry point for hoops fans that’s complementary to TV broadcast, said Kay Madati, global VP and head of content partnership at Twitter.

“We’re taking live content and expanding its footprint,” Madati said.

In another TV-related deal, in 2019 Twitter is bringing back the “Game of Thrones” aftershow from Bill Simmons’ The Ringer for the eighth and final season of the HBO hit, and The Ringer also will produce an aftershow for season 2 of HBO’s drama “Big Little Lies.” Twitter also has renewed pacts with Fox Sports for video from the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 and with PGA Tour for expanded live-streaming coverage.

“Consumers aren’t just sitting in front of their televisions anymore,” Madati said. For Twitter’s media deals, the goal is to creatively package content uniquely for the platform: “This is not just taking a television program and putting it on Twitter. That doesn’t work.” Twitter currently has more than 950 content partners worldwide.

The NBA live streams on Twitter — which will be available only in the U.S. — will debut during TNT’s presentation of the 2019 NBA All-Star Game on Sunday, Feb. 17, and leading up to the game fans will have the opportunity to vote on which player will be the target of the isolated camera. A schedule of regular-season and playoff live streams will be announced later, along with dedicated commentators who will provide analysis for the single-player feeds.

The single-player camera format and broadcast of only the second halves of the NBA games is deliberately designed to not cannibalize TNT TV viewership, according to Madati. “Every single one of our deals has to look at that,” he said. “We’re not here to encroach on the rights of our partners.”

To be sure, another reason Twitter is working with rights-holders — instead of bidding for exclusive rights to live sports — may simply have to do with the reality that it doesn’t have the deep pockets that bigger tech players like Facebook, Amazon and Google do.

Besides supporting the TV broadcasts, Twitter distribution of related content generates incremental revenue for its media partners, Madati said.

For the NBA, the hope is the single-player cam live-streams on Twitter will serve as a new way to ratchet up fan engagement. The NBA joined Twitter in 2009, and it now has the largest Twitter community of any sports league in the world with 27.5 million followers.

The parties are announcing the deal at CES 2019, where Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver are scheduled to appear in a session to discuss “#NBATwitter” at the CES Sports Zone Stage at the Aria on Wednesday.

“The NBA Twitter community is among the most vibrant in sports and entertainment,” the NBA’s Silver said in a prepared statement. “While watching NBA games on TNT, our fans on Twitter can now enjoy a unique second screen experience that will further enhance the way fans engage with each other and the game.”

Turner president David Levy emphasized that the live streams on Twitter “will provide an additive experience for fans to go along with the fully-produced coverage on TNT.”

As part of the expanded relationship, the NBA – through its NBA Digital partnership with Turner – will continue to provide on-demand content from the @NBA Twitter handle, including video of pregame warmups, in-game and post-game highlights, and behind-the-scenes content. Madati said near-live sports clips on Twitter (which are also produced by the NFL and other leagues) are just as valuable as live-streaming content.

Meanwhile, for this summer’s Women’s World Cup, Fox Sports will deliver the “FIFA World Cup Now” news and highlights show live from Paris every matchday exclusively on Twitter in the U.S. During live matches, Fox Sports’ Twitter feeds will again post every tournament goal shortly after it is scored on Twitter. Pre-tournament content is new to this year’s agreement, with access to the U.S. Women’s National Team’s SheBelieves Cup journey in March.

The PGA Tour’s renewed and expanded agreement with Twitter will bring nearly 140 hours of live competition from 28 tournaments during the 2018-19 PGA Tour season. For the first time, Twitter will stream weekend play — the first 60-90 minutes from the morning hours — designed in part to drive fans to PGA Tour’s over-the-top subscription service. In addition, the PGA Tour is launching “Fan Vote Fridays,” giving fans the chance to vote via Twitter to determine one of the two featured groups that will be showcased on Fridays for tournaments streamed on Twitter.

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