The NBA, as a league, is known for three things: basketball, its commitment to the global game and a willingness to be at the forefront of technology.
This past weekend, those three elements collided in a beautifully constructed and fascinating documentary created by Turner Sports and their Players Only Films called “Something in the Water,” which premiered on Facebook Watch.
The documentary focuses on a group of talented and young stars from the former Yugoslavia — such as No. 3 overall pick and Dallas Mavericks rookie Luka Doncic — who are embarking on their NBA journeys, as well as the group of players from the region who paved the way for them in the 1980s and 1990s.
The plot is about family, struggle, hardship, war and the blossoming of one of the NBA’s most fertile regions for talent outside of the United States despite its smaller size. Stories like these are important for the league and its broadcast partners to tell because it showcases the power of the game and its transformative nature.
“The NBA is a global game,” said Craig Barry, executive vice president/chief content officer of Turner Sports. “We live in a diverse world and we need to speak in a diverse language that extends to global platforms such as Facebook Watch. The international game is having a big impact on today’s NBA, as seen with Luka Doncic going No. 3 overall in this year’s NBA Draft and Dzanan Musa also being a first-round selection. It was the right time to tell this story.”
While the NBA and Turner have more conventional platforms on which to air this documentary, a story of this magnitude deserves a platform with global reach.
Enter Facebook Watch.
The relatively new distribution channel provides a truly unique opportunity for the league and Turner.
“This platform offers an ability to create engagement around the content, to ensure fans can consume and interact with it while also having real-time conversation surrounding the subject matter,” said Barry, who also serves as executive producer for the Players Only Films series. “This is becoming more and more important as we talk about the importance of engagement metrics and there’s a robust, international community on Facebook Watch. We felt it was the best place to share this compelling story.”
One of the great things to emerge in sports since the advent of social media a little over a decade ago is its connective power. The fact that fans of basketball across the globe can discuss the game has helped grow it far beyond North America. That discussion has finally found its way to longform video on the Facebook Watch platform. It’s something that Turner and the NBA hope to tap into with “Something in the Water.”
“It’s 100 percent about the level of engagement with the content and to tell stories that resonate and drive emotional connection with fans,” Barry said of what will define success for the documentary. “For Players Only Films, our subset to the overarching Players Only franchise, this is also an opportunity to raise awareness for a fast-growing brand as we expand it to multiple platforms. Players Only is all about authentic storytelling around the players through their eyes – whether that is through NBA on TNT, NBA Digital, our social handles and platforms – and Facebook Watch offers a dynamic distribution opportunity for this content.”
The documentary is more proof of the league’s commitment to grow both internationally and digitally. It also will provide an interesting test case for sports content providers overall. If a longform documentary can find its audience and generate buzz via Facebook Watch, it very easily could signal a shift in the way we see content distributed moving forward. Whether it’s a bellwether of a shift in media or not, the documentary is an example of great content that transcends the platform on which it’s housed.