The commercial break can be detrimental to live action. When ads air, viewers tend to take the remote and change the channel. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wants to keep viewers on the games. Before the season, Silver enacted a plan to reduce the number of timeouts per game from 18 to 14, standardizing the length of timeouts and shortening halftime. And this is from a league where the ratings are going up as compared to other sports.
Silver told strategy+business that he noticed the NBA was losing viewers whenever games went to break and most noticeably at halftime. So Silver asked the league’s TV partners, ESPN and Turner Sports to stay with the live action:
“So we’re experimenting, with Turner and ESPN, with not leaving the arena completely during commercial breaks, and instead having a split screen, where we stay with the huddle at the same time we show an ad. It’s a trade-off for our marketing partners. On the one hand, they’d like the full attention of a viewer. On the other hand, they might prefer to keep all of the viewers and find ways to create connections with their products and engage directly with the game.”
With games averaging two hours and fifteen minutes, Silver is well aware that keeping viewers can be an effort. He cites the fact that viewers are watching games for about 50 minutes so he wants them to stay longer.
Silver says that’s where the tweaks come into place, whether it’s creating new experiences like placing cameras in the team huddles during timeouts, players being miced up and providing new viewing angles. He says the changes “can help increase our ratings.”
As for the future of media rights, Silver says he doesn’t see a point where the league will go to a streaming partner for the bulk of its distribution. He says ESPN and Turner provide the widest distribution and while the league has partnerships with Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, the NBA can’t stream games on Facebook in the U.S. for now due to its partnerships with ESPN/Turner.
Silver doesn’t rule it out in the future, but as for reaching the widest audience, he says TV may still be the best option ten years from now.
Even if the NBA remains on television for the foreseeable future, Silver looks like he will continue to experiment on ways to keep viewers from leaving games.