Steve Ballmer explains the LA Clippers’ new streaming service

Steve Ballmer explains the LA Clippers’ new streaming service

NBA legends (L-R) Baron Davis, Paul Pierce and Jamal Crawford with LA Clippers chairman Steve Ballmer during a preview of “BallerVision,” a live commentary mode included in the team’s new ClipperVision streaming service.

A new streaming service unveiled by the LA Clippers this morning reflects the philosophy of the franchise’s chairman, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, about the role the NBA and its teams should play in shaping the digital viewing experience.

“We have to define the future of watching basketball,” Ballmer said in an interview with GeekWire. “We’re always going to do a better job of that than any distribution partner. Whether we’re distributing directly or through an ESPN or a TNT or an Amazon or whoever gets into the business of distributing these things, the experience that makes this the best possible basketball come from our league.”

The new service, called ClipperVision, costs $199.99 per year. Only available to viewers in the Los Angeles market, it will provide access to all of the team’s games except those televised nationally.

The strategy is the sporting equivalent of a retail brand that sells directly to consumers as an alternative to traditional distribution channels, establishing a closer connection with its customers or fans.

However, the new Clippers service will also address a growing trend of subscription fatigue as consumers tire of all the monthly services needed to access different pieces of content, from content aggregators like Netflix and Hulu to narrower streaming sites from entertainment brands and sports. leagues.

Individual sports teams launching their own streaming services can take the feeling of congestion to a whole new level. Although the Clippers are the first in the NBA, other teams may follow in the future.

However, Ballmer said the approach reflects ongoing trends in media consumption.

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“I think the world is coming to mass customization, mass customization,” he said, explaining that he sees no reason to fight that trend. “Every other aspect of content is going in that direction.”

The ability to stream games in the LA area is a big difference from the NBA’s $99.99/year League Pass, which doesn’t allow fans to watch games in their local markets due to restrictions built into regional TV deals.

Activated by new TV contract

For the Clippers, Ballmer said, getting the opportunity to launch the service was a “fundamental part” of the team’s recent contract renewal with Bally Sports, which distributes Clippers games and is also launching its own streaming service.

“Come hell or high water, I was going to offer the streaming service,” Ballmer said. But because the team was able to find an agreement, he added, “now it’s no compromise.”

ClipperVision is built on the NBA’s NextGen platform and other shared technologies, with a “clear path” for other teams to launch their own services if they wish, using their own variations of the approach, Ballmer said.

Bally Sports, a subsidiary of Sinclair Broadcast Group, also holds the television rights to more than 20 other teams as part of its regional sports networks. Ballmer declined to speculate when asked whether other NBA teams would use the Clippers’ new contract as a blueprint for their own renegotiations.

ClipperVision offers six viewing modes, including the team’s CourtVision augmented reality experience; Korean and Spanish language streams; and a live commentary mode called BallerVision, featuring former Clippers players such as Jamal Crawford, Baron Davis and Paul Pierce, with guest appearances by Ballmer and celebrities.

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At launch, ClipperVision also comes with a special benefit, a limited edition team jacket exclusive to subscribers. Ballmer said it was important to include something “physical and tangible” with the service.

A long-term goal is to unify user accounts across digital and personal experiences.

“If you want to buy merchandise, or you come into the arena, we already know you, and want to make your experience as personal as possible,” Ballmer said.

Like this year’s closely watched Clippers team, led by star players Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the organization’s new streaming service is years in the making.

Evolution of sports viewing

Ballmer said he has been thinking about the potential to bring new levels of interactivity to sports viewing since he was Microsoft chief. He pointed out that the Microsoft Surface sponsorship deal with the NFL had its origins in talks about interactive Xbox viewing experiences that didn’t pan out at the time.

He was able to explore his ideas further after purchasing the Clippers for $2 billion in 2014. Ballmer and the Clippers worked with technology company Second Spectrum to launch the CourtVision experience four years ago, with statistics, animations and other graphics overlaid on the screen in near real time.

“If this is a basketball town, damn it, let’s hear it!” LA Clippers chairman Steve Ballmer exhorts the crowd before a recent exhibition game in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo/Kevin Lisota)

One benefit of the new direct-to-consumer streaming service, Ballmer said, will be the ability to add new features in the future. He cited the hypothetical example of gamifying the experience as something that would be more difficult in a distribution scenario.

At the same time, the Clippers are still investing heavily in the future of in-person viewing. The team’s new 18,000-seat arena, the Intuit Dome, is set to debut for the 2024-25 season in Inglewood, California.

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Ballmer, who has become a fixture at Clippers games, cheering from his baseline seats, said he believes the magic of the personal basketball experience will endure even as technology advances.

“There’s still something special about being in the arena,” he said, “with the energy and sense of community.”

In the long run, Ballmer said that ClipperVision could become a meaningful source of income for the team, but the biggest priority for now is to control its own destiny in the distribution of content.

“Over time, I see it as a way to make money, but we don’t know how the whole world of content distribution is going to develop,” he said. In the meantime, he explained, “this allows us to be light on our feet.”

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