ESPN will debut an NBA simulcast aimed at teens Sunday night for Game 2 of the NBA Finals. Hosted by Katie Nolan, the simulcast will be streamed via the ESPN app, and feature a variety of graphics and personalities that ESPN thinks younger viewers might be more interested in seeing.
Nolan, analyst Jay Williams, Snapchat “SportsCenter” host Gary Striewski and Mike Korzemba, a YouTube influencer who specializes in basketball-related content, will hold forth on a special Game 2 broadcast available only on the ESPN App. They will be superimposed at the bottom of the screen while the game plays above them. – and free to let loose. Viewers will see various emoji-like symbols pop up during game play – like a ‘fire’ graphic if a shooter has a hot hand – or data nuggets about steals, assists, rebounds and more. ESPN executives see the whole thing as an experiment in the ongoing quest by TV networks to give viewers between 12 and 17 a feed of game action that best suits them.
That approach is reminiscent of ESPN’s recent foray into alternate broadcasts, which saw Brian Windhorst and others floating on the screen.
Da hell is going on over on ESPN2??? 😂😂
Didn't even know they did this. pic.twitter.com/HVdaC4TFQE
— ㅤㅤㅤ (@ftbeard_17) May 21, 2019
It makes sense to a degree; ESPN obviously has a vested interest in reaching as many audiences as possible, and meeting young viewers where they are via ESPN’s array of resources and streaming infrastructure makes some sense.
Catching younger sports fans in new ways is key to ESPN’s future. It’s no secret that ESPN has, like many other longstanding cable networks, faced an erosion of subscribers to its traditional linear outlets. ESPN has already cast for new ways to lure younger fans,including recent investments in rights deals with combat sports league such as the MMA.
The NBA test is likely to shake up the way ESPN anchors and producers handle their duties. Nolan, for example, will be on screen during much of Sunday’s game, rather than popping in occasionally or talking from behind the scenes.
She expects to have more freedom. “Maybe we will be talking off the cuff. Maybe I will get something wrong. Maybe no one corrects you,” she says. “But that’s what happens when you are sitting on a couch with friends.”
Using a simulcast rather than clumsily integrating some of these elements into the main broadcast is also smart, as that’s a guaranteed way to annoy viewers. Will kids be interested in something like this, if done well? Maybe! It’s not a scientific poll, but I sent the link to my brother, who’s 24 and enjoys sports and video games, just to see if he thought the idea was even possibly viable, or if he would have interest in watching.
Isaac’s last point probably goes for just about all broadcast tweaks or shifts: it’s all in the final presentation. It could be a fun way to connect with a new audience, or it could be shameless pandering and Jay Williams arguing with a YouTube influencer using on-screen emojis. We’ll have to wait and see.