Two-screen App for the Solitary Fan

NBA.com introduces TV Companion
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LOS ANGELES
NBA.com has come up with what it calls "a first-of-its-kind live game companion" for TV fans of pro basketball who just happen to have an online boost nearby. For those who do, the app's full screen illustrations, user-friendly connections to stats and video recaps, plus social networking opportunities, can put them that much closer to an in-arena experience. And, best of all, it's free—at least for this season.

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TV Companion's Last 10 Shots "The goal of this application was to bring all that content and all those feeds into a comprehensive, all-encompassing companion application," said Michael Allen, the NBA's vice president of Interactive Services. "The hope is that by offering those social features, people will be engaged longer with the game and the broadcast."

Soft-launched at the start of the regular season, the app is hooked into various social networks, including Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and Yahoo, as well as on the home pages of the NBA's 30 teams and nba.com. So, instead of sitting at home (or elsewhere) alone, the now better-informed fans can participate in electronic camaraderie. In exchange, traffic with a larger commitment is expected to be driven to the league's television network partners—ESPN/ABC and TNT—as per the eight-year rights agreements set down in 2007. At that time, the contracts specified "rights to technologies that have yet to be invented."

SOCIAL NETWORKING

NBA.com has been pushing the envelope on the two-screen experience since it was launched more than 10 years ago. It claims an average of more than 2.6 million daily visits, and was the first professional sports league in the United States to offer specific international Web destinations for fans (which, it notes, now comprise about half its traffic). Internal traffic measurements are used to calculate page views to NBA.com.

According to Nielsen's "A2/M2 Three Screen Report" for the second quarter of 2008, more than half of Americans (57 percent) who have Internet access at home use television and the Internet simultaneously at least once a month.

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TV Companion's Post Game Wrapup "Time spent on social network and blogging sites accounted for 17 percent of all time spent on the Internet in August 2009, nearly triple the percentage of time spent on the sector a year ago," the ratings company recently said. Moreover, "Year-over-year, estimated online advertising spent on the top social network and blogging sites increased 119 percent, from approximately $49 million in August 2008 to approximately $108 million in August 2009."

"The beauty of synchronizing your Web Site to a TV program is that it can be done instantly, with no new infrastructure being built," said Gerry Kaufhold, principal analyst with media research firm In-Stat. "People who simultaneously are watching a TV program, and also looking at their laptop screen, can become very highly engaged with the content."

Kaufhold told TV Technology that adopting supplemental technologies is the trend of the future for broadcast content in general and sports in particular, noting that the NFL was also providing an enhanced viewing experience. A European Broadcast Union standards initiative could enable broadcasters and video content producers there to synchronize broadcast content with applications and "triggers" delivered via broadband, according to Kaufhold.

"Many European digital terrestrial TV and digital satellite TV set top boxes already have broadband connections," he said.

Last month, Facebook listed more than 1.7 million fans on its NBA Wall, while Twitter listed more than 1.6 million for NBA on Twitter. The YouTube profile for NBA Channel Views has tallied more than 13 million since the NBA joined four years ago. NBA.com uses APIs supplied by the social networks to connect directly with NBA platforms.

As for prospects for advertisers, the NBA said "there are strong leads for new sponsors, but [they are] not finalized as of yet."

TECH BEHIND TV COMPANION

The TV Companion offering is a collaborative effort between the NBA and NBA Digital, a partnership between the NBA and Turner Sports that manages the NBA's cross-platform of digital assets. These digital assets include NBA TV, NBA.com, NBA LEAGUE PASS, NBA LEAGUE PASS Broadband, NBA Mobile, NBADLEAGUE.com and WNBA.com.

According to Allen, TV Companion was programmed in jQuery, a fast and concise JavaScript Library of controls. The controls simplify transitions from one HTML document or page to another, plus animation and user maneuvers within these documents/ pages, as well as Ajax Web technologies to facilitate Web updates and interactivity.

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TV Companion's Stats Page "It pulls in various live XML feeds of all of our statistical information that pertains to the game," Allen said. "A lot of the information that you see in the application itself is automated content that exists across multiple NBA Digital platforms."

TV Companion's success will be measured by Omniture, a tracking service for Web traffic.

"The key metric that we'll be looking at is the time spent on this application," Allen said. The service will also track overall traffic, traffic generated by team, and IP address location—the last noting the geographic location of users who are engaged with the application.

In addition, the NBA is going to take feedback from the teams and directly from fans' Web dialogue.

FUTURE POSSIBILITIES

To date, TV Companion is English-only and PC-based.

"The current application was developed and designed for the Web," said Allen. "But we are definitely also looking to push our successful applications to multiple platforms—there have been conversations and ideas in terms of how to translate it to other platforms."

He would not reveal further details on that front.

"We're excited to see where this goes—there are no definitive plans for the future just yet," said his press handler.