Turner Sports Service to Let Fans Buy Portions of NBA Games

(Bloomberg) -- Time Warner Inc.’s Turner unit unveiled a streaming service that will enable sports fans to watch NBA games in progress at a reduced price, the latest example of a big media company trying to reach younger customers online.

The service, called Bleacher Report Live, will launch April 7 for free, and Turner will begin charging for subscriptions a few months later, the company said Tuesday. It didn’t disclose the price of a subscription.

Customers will also be able to see other high-profile sports such as soccer’s UEFA Champions League, golf’s PGA Championship and various college games, though not basketball. Turner will also stream niche sports like National Lacrosse League and the World Armwrestling League, which have small but dedicated fan bases.

The sports media world is becoming increasingly fragmented, and media companies are seeing opportunities to cater to fans of specific sports or teams. But they must also be careful to not to anger pay-TV providers like Comcast Corp., which carry NBA games and other live sports programs. Nationally televised NBA games on Turner’s TNT and TBS channels won’t be part of the new streaming service.

New Order

Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN plans to unveil its own sports streaming service, charging $4.99 a month. Discovery Communications Inc. offers an online service in Europe called Eurosport Player with more than 1 million subscribers who pay to stream soccer, tennis and other sports. NBC offers subscription services for cycling, rugby, and track and field.

While many online services charge a monthly fee for all their content, Turner’s new service gives sports fans the option to pay for live games, or even parts of them, on an individual basis. For instance, users will be able to buy a portion of NBA League Pass games at a reduced price starting next season. NBA League Pass is a regular-season package that allows subscribers to view games outside their local viewing area.

“Let’s say a game starts at 7:30 and they know they’re free for 15 minutes and interested in watching a portion of a live NBA game,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said at a Turner event in New York. “It might not be a fair consumer proposition that a fan needs to pay $7 when they know they only have time to watch five or 10 minutes of a game.”

In addition to Bleacher Report Live, consumers will be able to buy in-progress games on the NBA’s website and app.

ITunes Model

Turner will test prices in the coming months with consumers and negotiate those rates with the leagues, starting with 99 cents for individual games, said President David Levy. He said that specific price has persuaded people to buy individual songs on Apple’s iTunes store and may also be the right amount to charge for a sporting event.

“It’s like Netflix meets iTunes,” Levy said in an interview, adding that while some fans can buy individual games, others will likely be able to pay a monthly fee for everything on the service. “If they want to watch Liverpool and don’t care about all that other stuff and just want to watch that particular game, we’ll provide that.”

To run the service, Turner is teaming up with the sports website Bleacher Report, which it acquired in 2012 for about $175 million.

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