NBA Takes It to the 'Net

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Basketball fans will soon be able to watch Kobe Bryant dunk and shoot for three live on their laptop computers.

The National Basketball Association will offer every league game on the Internet, via NBA.com, to subscribers of its “NBA League Pass” out-of-market pay-per-view package.

Meanwhile, Comcast will tip off an array of league-centered on-demand programming.

PAY-PER-VIEW ASSIST

The NBA's free Web offering is a fast break from other pro sports leagues like Major League Baseball, which charges a separate fee for its online and cable out-of-market game packages.

The live games are part of an extensive NBA broadband video offering that will give fans hundreds of hours of video game highlights, user-generated content and fantasy-sports information, as well as a forum to express their opinions about their favorite teams, said NBA Entertainment director of interactive services for NBA Entertainment Steve Grimes.

The NBA League Pass broadband area on NBA.com will, for the first time, offer every live game aired as part of the $179 NBA League Pass package, distributed through cable and satellite companies. The league tested the online streaming service late in the 2005-06 season.

Grimes would not reveal how many streams the league generated; the NBA also declined to say how many subscribers it has for its out-of-market package.

“It's a great way for fans to follow the games while they're away from their TV,” Grimes said. “You can take your laptop on a business trip and still get the same NBA League Pass you can get at home.”

The NBA is the third professional sports league to offer live out-of-market games on broadband. Through MLB.com, Major League Baseball offers live streaming of regular-season games for $79.95. The league also offers “MLB Extra Innings,” a cable and satellite-based out-of-market game package for $169.95.

MLB officials did not returns calls seeking subscription counts for the packages.

Major League Soccer offers a $9.95 Web-based live game subscription package to complement its $69 MLS Direct Kick cable and satellite out-of-market game service.

To keep from slam-dunking its cable and satellite partners, Grimes said the league will offer its NBA League Pass Broadband service free as an added value to existing NBA League Pass subscribers.

“We didn't want to set up a competitive product to our partners,” Grimes said. “Also, the people who buy League Pass are some of our best customers. To be able to offer them extra value as part of this makes far more sense than setting up something that they may have to pay an additional price for.”

BROADBAND BUILD

Looking to build on the 65 million streams of game highlights, player profiles and other content NBA.com garnered last season, Grimes said the league will add even more broadband video offerings.

Along with in-game and post-game highlights of every NBA game, NBA TV Broadband will feature highlights of top plays, press conferences, interviews and behind-the-scenes coverage this season. In addition, the league will create team-specific broadband video players that will run on NBA.com, as well as the respective team sites. “Those teams will also be able to augment the league video offering with anything they shoot on location, which can be uploaded on the same video player,” Grimes said.

In an effort to reach casual fans, Grimes said the network will add more offbeat, lighthearted content, similar to the entertainment clips seen on user-generated sites like YouTube and MySpace. For hard core hoops fans, the league will offer a voice section that will give them a chance to write personal recaps, commentaries and insights for specific games.

Users can post comments from the beginning of each game until the end of the next day. Comments will be saved along with the actual game's official score and recap on the site, and on the individual's personal profile page.

COMCAST'S ON-DEMAND PLAY

On the on-demand side of the scoreboard, the NBA will provide Comcast's on-demand service with three- to five-minute highlight clips from league games daily; top plays from the past evening's action; and NBA library content, according to Steve Merritt, senior director of marketing for NBA TV.

The league will also provide Comcast with several exclusive VOD packages, including an NBA season and fantasy preview, a draft preview and All-Star Game content.

“It's an extremely robust on-demand offering,” said Merritt, noting that the league is talking to other operators about supplying them on-demand content.

The NBA is also in talks with Google about extending last year's agreement to offer complete replays of its games for $9.95 per download. The league also expects to shortly announce plans to offer content to mobile phones and other portable media players, like Apple Computer's video iPods, said Merritt.

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