Wolk’s Week in Review: NBA teams with Microsoft, Peacock soft launches

TV[R]EV Week In Review
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Well-known industry analyst Alan Wolk is publishing his popular Week In Review columns first on FierceVideo every Friday. This means that FierceVideo readers are the first to get all Wolk's insights as they navigate the fast-moving television business.

Wolk's Week In Review

1. NBA to launch new app with Microsoft

The NBA announced that it would be launching a super fancy new app in conjunction with Microsoft. The app will arrive in time for the 2020/2021 season, a season whose launch is far from a sure thing, but assuming things go well, it will have all sorts of bells and whistles and represent a major step up from League Pass.

Why it matters

Sports rights are tricky. For many years the cost of sports rights have been highly inflated because they were packaged in with the larger cable bundle and thus the costs were spread over a larger audience.

But those audiences are pushing back and they don’t want to pay for high priced sports they don’t watch.

This is going to be a bigger problem in the years to come as cord cutting picks up—people who are mostly watching Flixes and FASTS are not going to want to pay $100/month (or even $50/month) for a service they don’t watch.

So, sports leagues will likely have to go after their more passionate fans, people who will happily pay larger sums of money for the ability to watch their favorite teams.

And if they are going to pay larger sums of money, they are going to want an app that reflects that expenditure. If you recall, one reason for the massive dissatisfaction with MVPDs was that the user experience they provided was so decidedly downscale despite the $100+ price point— “paying Nordstrom prices for Kmart service” was what we called it.

The new app will have many features that sound very state of the art. It will have real-time stat overlays and a choose-your-own-adventure style array of audio and video feeds. There will be gaming elements, there will be integration with merchandise, social media and tickets to actual games. There will even be an AI engine that learns your preferences over time in order to personalize your app experience. (We’ll see about that one, but it’s a good idea.)

The other piece of this is that the app will only show around 100 games per season, meaning that fans will still need to rely on RSNs if they want to see every one of their favorite team’s games.

That’s likely to change, eventually though, as current contracts are usually pretty long-term. The app is a good overview of what the league could do—personalizing subscription options so you only get to see your favorite team, adding more customization options and integrating in-arena experiences.

But the bottom line is that this looks to be where professional sports is heading, if not in the next two to three years, then certainly within the next five.

What you need to do about it.

If you are another pro sports league, take a look at what the NBA is doing and learn from it, think of ways to improve on it and personalize it to your fan base.

If you’re Roku, Amazon, Apple, Vizio or another potential aggregator, this, and apps like it, are a great way to bring people into your ecosystem as sports fans tend to be loyal.

If you’re an NBA fan, definitely check it out, it sounds like the NBA was listening to us.

If you’re an RSN, time to think about how you can work with the various sports leagues on apps like this for your local teams and what the shift to streaming will look like overall. Your world is changing…slowly, but it is changing. Best to stay on top of it.

2. Peacock soft launches

Peacock, NBCU’s new streaming service, launched this week to mostly favorable reviews. Or at least they sure sounded favorable after the chorus of booing and hissing that greeted the launch of Quibi last week.

Why it matters

The launch was actually a soft launch—the app was only available to Comcast subscribers.

The full rollout will happen in July, possibly sooner. (The July date made sense when the Summer Olympics were still happening, as they were going to be a major factor in Peacock’s launch.)

Right now, the app has a nice array of classic NBCU shows and Universal movies. The layout is well done and even includes feeds that feel more like linear channels and could potentially be personalized down the road.

That said, it feels more like a really well done VOD app right now—not a bad thing for a free app—and the programming choices are at least different than what is currently available on the FASTS.

Original content may not be available until next year, given the pandemic, but that may not be the worst thing in the world for Peacock, given the likelihood of a content drought from all the productions that have been shut down this past month. That drought will coincide with the 2021 Olympics and may give Peacock a much needed boost.

In the short-term, the good vibes from this week’s launch will be long forgotten in three months, especially if the launch of HBO Max, slated for May, goes well and garners all sorts of positive buzz.

What remains to be seen is whether the free and ad-supported versions of Peacock can attract enough viewers to retain advertisers. Given the current state of economic flux, I’m betting that free apps will do very well over the next few months though.

What you need to do about it

If you’re NBCU, you need to see if you can roll out the full app sooner. Money is tight and if people are already subscribing to HBO Max, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Disney+ and AppleTV+—even if some of those subscriptions are free right now—there won’t be much room left in the budget. Plus, people watch less TV in the summer and we will hopefully not be under quarantine by then and so the last place a lot of people will want to be is stuck indoors.

If you’re a Comcast subscriber, check it out—it’s well done, free, gives you a lot to watch and even has next-day catch up content.

If you’re an advertiser—keep an eye on those subscriber numbers but remember that lower ad loads and the tracking data that comes with digital delivery are your friend.

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