When Katie Nolan hosts an ESPN TV show for Game 2 of the NBA Finals this Sunday, some viewers may think she’s there to argue game by game. Others may think she is up for a laugh with friends.
And the executives of the sports media giant agree with that.
Nolan, analyst Jay Williams, Snapchat “SportsCenter” host Gary Striewski and Mike Korzemba, a YouTube influencer specializing in basketball-related content, will take part in a special Game 2 broadcast available only on the ESPN app . They’ll be layered at the bottom of the screen as the game unfolds above them – and will be free to let loose. Viewers will see various emoji-like symbols appear during play (like a ‘fire’ graphic if a shooter has a hot hand) or data nuggets of steals, assists, bounces and more. ESPN executives see it as an experience in TV networks’ continued quest to give viewers between the ages of 12 and 17 a stream of gaming action that works best for them.
“Maybe there will be pizza,” said Nolan (above, in the photo) of the relaxed setting. “We see an opportunity to reach young people who are changing the way they consume content. A traditional broadcast of the game will be available on ABC.
ESPN is tackling what is likely to be a growing challenge for sports providers of all sizes: A rising generation of viewers are getting used to watching their games in a very different way. “It’s really the Twitch-ification of television,” said Tim Hanlon, CEO of Vertere Group, a media and advertising consultancy, referring to the Amazon-owned streaming platform Twitch that broadcasts content. video games and electronic sports. “A whole generation of younger men see data, graphics and interacting with others as their primary focus and gambling is almost the backdrop to this activity.”
Creating an environment that reflects some of the elements of esports may be essential in the not-so-distant future for established sports providers like ESPN. The North American esports market is expected to grow by 35% in 2019, according to a study by Deloitte Global.
ESPN has been testing alternative online viewing experiences for several months, but this will be the first time the Disney-owned outlet has made a product that it says will appeal directly to young people, said Ed Placey, a senior coordinating producer of ESPN. ‘ESPN who oversaw the experiments. He likens the stream of the NBA Finals to “a friendly comic book experience”, with fans able to see symbols appear on screen “when notable events occur – a dunk, a big three-point pointer, a block”.
In the not-so-distant days, every sports fan would watch the same broadcast of a game. But in an age where people can stream their favorite videos at times and on devices of their choice, there is a growing sense that different groups of consumers are looking for different experiences. Indeed, Amazon hired the first all-female soccer team – Hannah Storm and Andrea Kremer – to provide a different take on the game for customers who chose to watch their stream of the Fox show of “Thursday Night Football”. ESPN recently offered two different broadcasts of the annual NFL Draft. One posted on its flagship network was aimed at sports enthusiasts, and another sent via ABC devoted more time to the stories of athletes chosen by various teams and their families. At its headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut, a dedicated technology team from ESPN experimented with an on-demand system that allows viewers to choose from different camera streams from the same game.
“We can serve many types of audiences without alienating anyone,” Placey says.
Attracting young sports fans in new ways is key to ESPN’s future. It’s no secret that ESPN, like many other long-standing cable networks, has faced erosion in the number of subscribers to its traditional linear outlets. ESPN has previously researched new ways to attract young fans, including recent investments in rights deals with combat sports league such as MMA.
The NBA test is likely to change the way ESPN anchors and producers go about their business. Nolan, for example, will be on screen for much of Sunday’s game, rather than appearing every now and then or speaking behind the scenes.
She hopes to have more freedom. “Maybe we’ll talk out of the blue. Maybe I’ll be wrong. Maybe no one is correcting you, ”she said. “But that’s what happens when you’re sitting on a couch with friends.”