NBA TV Streaming Service Faces Stiff Competition Outside of Sports

    • NBA TV will combine the best of both NBA TV linear programming and NBA League Pass for fans.
    • The league's defined audience will limit the number of subscribers that will sign up, but should help NBA TV stand out in the market, experts say.

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The NBA’s new direct-to-consumer service, NBA TV, was created with the sole purpose of providing fans with another choice in how they watch basketball, according to the league. Yet the offering does drop the NBA right into the highly-competitive streaming wars.

In addition to mainstay offerings from Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video, new platforms – including Disney+ and the soon-to-launch HBO MAX – add to the competition NBA TV will face for consumer dollars outside of the sports industry.

The saving grace for NBA TV in the saturated digital streaming market may be its niche target audience: the hardcore NBA fan.

“We see a terrific opportunity to engage fans with the NBA TV direct-to-consumer product, which offers unique, around-the-clock access to premium NBA games, original programming, and an extensive list of on-demand video content with advanced viewing options,” said Chris Benyarko, NBA vice president, direct to consumer, in an email.

Launched by NBA Digital, a jointly-managed venture by the NBA and Turner Sports, NBA TV is now available to customers for $6.99 per month or $59.99 annually. The NBA’s move to expand NBA TV into a direct-to-consumer product is also a decision other major sports leagues may mimic in the future, according to Alex Evans, managing director of L.E.K. Consulting and leader of the firm’s sports practice.

“This speaks to the reality of sports media and paid TV today,” said Evans. “There’s a whole range of people who have cut the cord or never had it. Traditionally-distributed services like NBA TV won’t be able to reach them.”

The NBA skews younger in viewing audience and is most affected by millennial and Gen Z consumers creating a-la-carte entertainment packages from the breadth of services available, Evans said.

Its defined target audience will undoubtedly limit the number of subscribers the league can sign up, but should help the NBA differentiate itself enough to stand out in the market. The perfect comparison of what NBA.TV could become is the WWE Network, launched in 2014.

“WWE Network has been successful, and caters to a well-defined audience,” said Evans. “You’d imagine that same audience also has Prime and Netflix, but WWE to them is must-have content.”

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The launch of NBA.TV is unlikely to have any real impact on NBA League Pass – the NBA’s out-of-market cable offering. League Pass – which is similar to other pro league offerings like NHL Center Ice, MLB Extra Innings, and NFL Sunday Ticket – focuses on broadcast live-game content.

NBA TV will instead combine the best of both NBA TV linear programming and League Pass for fans. This may ruffle a few feathers with cable providers, but Evans doubts it will be the lone reason consumers cut the cord.

“It’s one more straw on the camel’s back,” he said. “Hard to imagine people canceling their cable subscription because all their needs have been met by NBA TV digital.”

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Benyarko said that traditional cable, satellite, and digital providers will be able to offer their subscribers the opportunity to view some of the new NBA TV streaming service features via the NBA’s website and mobile app.

The NBA declined to share revenue expectations for the new venture.