ESPN and CBS aren’t the only big sports media companies with new OTT offerings this year. Turner Sports is joining the fray, launching its own direct-to-consumer live sports service, Bleacher Report Live, in April.
The new offering is distinguishing itself from ESPN’s upcoming ESPN+, which will require a monthly subscription, and CBS Sports HQ, which is free. Instead, Bleacher Report Live will offer pay-per-game access to a variety of live sports, including basketball, soccer, lacrosse—and arm wrestling.
Beyond that, it gives users the ability to locate sports content anywhere—even if it’s offered by its competitors—and connect them to those games, functionality that will be free for everyone.
“Viewing habits are continuing to change, and we must adapt,” said Turner president David Levy at a New York press event today.
When Turner acquired the millennial-focused Bleacher Report in 2012, “we envisioned a time where the brand could become a virtual network in its own right, and that time is now,” Levy said.
Bleacher Report Live will feature thousands of live sporting events, including UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League, NBA League Pass games, 65 NCAA Championships, the PGA Championship, National Lacrosse League, The Spring League, Red Bull Global Rallycross and World Arm Wrestling League.
Its first live event will be quarterback Johnny Manziel’s debut in The Spring League on April 7.
The direct-to-consumer offering will launch on iOS, Android and online in April and expand to connected devices this summer.
For the first couple of months, access to all live games will be free. In the summer, Bleacher Report Live will start charging on a per-game basis after a five-minute free window.
“Initially, it’s just going to be a price-per-event,” said Lenny Daniels, president of Turner Sports. “We think people actually just want to buy a game, and not have to buy 10 games or two leagues. But we also realize the importance of being able to offer someone who does want it all that ability.”
So, the company is working on a variety of subscription options that it will roll out later in the year.
Users will be able to scroll through real-time sporting events, which will be personalized based on their favorite sports and teams.
“We set a goal to make this as easy and frictionless as possible,” said Bleacher Report Live gm Hania Poole.
The service will be ad supported.
“We will take advantage of the natural breaks in the sporting event and run some ads. But we are definitely putting the fan first and trying not to be too intrusive,” Poole said.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver appeared at the announcement to lend his league’s support.
“I think this is going to be a big part of our future,” he said. Silver also revealed that as part of the NBA League Pass partnership with Turner, Bleacher Report Live users will be able to purchase a portion of an NBA game at a reduced price beginning next season. (That opportunity will also be offered via the NBA App and NBA.com.)
“Let’s sell the fan what it is they want,” said Silver, explaining that the league is taking a page from “microtransactions” that are popular during video games. If fans only have 10 minutes or so to watch a game, this is their opportunity to do that, for around $1.
Turner is still determining how many streams or devices it will allow per Bleacher Report Live account.
“Our whole goal is be fan-friendly first, and then we’ll work in to making money later,” said Daniels, who is thinking long term with the platform, seeing it as a 10-year process, not something that will be perfected by the summer.
Bleacher Report Live is joining an increasingly crowded field for sports OTT platforms. One month ago, CBS launched CBS Sports HQ, its sports-news streaming network for younger fans. The free, ad-supported offering includes live coverage from anchors and reporters, who will offer news, scores, stats, highlights and information throughout the day.
ESPN’s new streaming offering, ESPN+, will launch this spring. For $4.99 per month, it will provide thousands of hours of live sports programming, the full library of ESPN films and original content exclusively for that platform. However, it won’t replicate any programming on any of ESPN’s linear networks.
Outside of sports, several other media companies, including Fox News, are preparing their own direct-to-consumer offerings, as they attempt to reach cord cutters and cord-nevers. In February, Viacom CEO Robert Bakish said his company plans to launch its own OTT service later this year to “complement” Viacom’s existing networks, not serve as a substitute for them.