A new NBA-Facebook deal will bring longer highlight videos and curated playlists to your feed.
Welcome back to SCREENSHOTS, a weekly report from the intersection of sports, media, and the Internet.
SportsCenter may never again reach its must-watch zenith, with news and information now a tap away. But that hasn’t slowed the rise of individual highlights. Snackable, shareable, searchable clips—all on-demand—have proliferated online.
SportsCenter on Snapchat posts buzzworthy moments while House of Highlights dominates the flow of sizzle on Instagram. New startups all over the world meanwhile are developing techniques to automatically identify, clip, and post must-see plays as soon as they happen.
Still, Facebook sees a place for longer, three to five minute full game highlights as well as curated playlists—think mixtapes with a modern twist. When a previously unannounced two-year deal went into effect last week, the NBA began posting recaps of each of its games (as well as WNBA, G League, and 2K League contests) on the platform. Each week, the league will also play a pre-selected roll of videos (last week’s featured Kawhi Leonard) with viewers able to comment together using a feature called “Watch Party.” It could be the first step towards creating the next SportsCenter, on Facebook.
Facebook has made similar agreements with the NFL and MLB over the last two years, but a basketball deal is significant because of the NBA’s online draw. The league’s Facebook page has over twice as many followers as the NFL’s. “Super Bowl LIII in 60 Seconds” currently has 513,000 views. Highlights from the Lakers last game before the All-Star Break has drawn 1.2 million.
Millions more are sure to pile up for videos from this weekend’s All-Star Game festivities in Charlotte. Last year, with teams able to post content, The Pacers garnered 25 million views for a highlight reel of dunks (it’s worth noting here that different sites measure views in different—and sometimes confusing—ways). Facebook is hoping comments follow.
Entering 2019, the tech titans continue to nibble around the edges of sports content. None has snatched exclusive access to premier games away from traditional television. But already, their varied sports strategies are revealing themselves.
Amazon has been the most aggressive with live rights, including supplementary streams of Thursday Night Football. Netflix has put out its own original content, with a 10-part Michael Jordan series co-owned by ESPN coming in 2020. Twitter is leaning towards the commentary space through live shows. Google has positioned its YouTube TV product as the best way for cordcutters to watch games. Each represents a safer way to get into the athletics business than spending the billions it would take to grab a TV package.
Facebook has taken a similar tact, using sports video to bolster its nascent Watch product. “I… expect this to be the year where Watch becomes more mainstream,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during the company’s last earnings call. Highlights in the News Feed offer a passive experience, often viewed without sound and for only a few seconds. Watch footage aims to attract a more intentional audience—and to spark conversation. Hence the longer videos and the Watch Parties in particular.
“It’s simply like I’m watching something on television and I’m texting my brother and my friend on my phone—combining those two experiences,” Facebook North America’s sports programming lead, Devi Mahadevia, said. “We are very much thinking about what type of content creates that social interaction and community aspect.” Along those lines, Facebook also announced an upcoming Steph Curry documentary series this week.
“What’s great about social media is, based on whatever platform you are on, you’ll get served a slightly different version of our content,” NBA VP for digital media, Sam Farber, said. “As these platforms have all diverged and doubled down, we find things that work on one platform may not work on another. There is a lot less stepping on each other’s toes than one may think.”
What characterizes Facebook, Farber said, is “a lean-forward behavior we are seeing with fans actively engaging in the conversation—that’s the biggest differentiator in my opinion.” On each service, though, gameplay clips continue to play a large role, even as behind-the-scenes and player-generated content proliferates. “Highlights generally do power most of our viewership,” Farber said. “That’s the core of our game.”
This is far from the league’s first partnership with Zuckerberg’s company. The NBA has launched Messenger bots in the past, is showing 26 games in VR using Facebook’s Oculus Venues tool, and has had an IGTV channel since day one. As for how the NBA’s relationship has been affected by the questions surrounding Facebook, from its potential links to depression to data privacy concerns, Farber said, “Facebook’s always been a great partner for us…. We’re basically using every tool they have.”
All-Star Weekend will provide an early barometer of Facebook Watch’s potential for the NBA. “What makes it really exciting,” Farber added, “is that we can use the data and a/b test and really dive into what content specifically is working. We can figure out what’s most engaging for our audience and serve that product.”
CBS TRIES SOMETHING NEW ON FACEBOOK, TOO
CBS Sports president David Berson tells his charges to use the smattering of games the company produces on Facebook as an opportunity to experiment. On Saturday, they’re doing exactly that.
The three broadcasters calling Middle Tennessee State at Marshall will be spread out across the length of the floor’s sideline for the C-USA battle. Steve Lappas will provide analysis from the end of Marshall’s bench while Pete Gillen chimes in from the Blue Raiders’ side. Each has been embedded with those respective teams since Thursday. Gillen even agreed to ride the school’s bus to Huntington, W.V. Between them, Andrew Catalon will provide the play-by-play from his traditional midcourt seat.
To some degree, the setup was born from necessity. Producing a handful of Facebook football games this fall was challenging, CBS VP for remote production Steve Karasik said, mainly because there are no commercials on the platform’s games. The crew filled the time with social-based stories or bonus interviews, and by leaning on the analysts. When basketball season rolled around, they decided to try going all-in on that last option.
“Steve Lappas and Pete Gillen are both coaches and teachers at heart,” Karasik said. “Getting to know them, that’s the one thing they miss about coaching is the teaching, being with the kids, being a part of that…. This was a way for them to really show what they do as a coach in a way that hasn’t been seen before.”
Each will have a whiteboard with them, as well as a telestrator, and cameras above each backboard will be used to focus on the analysts during what would otherwise be commercial breaks but instead will become teaching moments.
This latest experiment comes at the end of a busy month for Karasik’s department, which has bounced from the AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl to the first ever AAF telecast. Coordinating producer Todd Keryc was heavily involved in planning Saturday’s broadcast, and it will largely be up to producer Scott Brandwein to make sure the separated announcers call a smooth game.
“It’s expanding the CBS Sports brand,” Karasik said. “Obviously the landscape has changed a little bit with younger viewers, so we want to showcase what we do at CBS Sports. We think our production is the best in the business.”
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THANK YOU, INTERNET…
...for (sticking with today’s #FacebookFriday theme) my favorite video series on Facebook: Vox Borders, some of the best educational storytelling online right now.