The NBA uses its G League to experiment with possible changes to its product. Starting Friday, it will be using it as a way to promote a brand new way of watching - and interacting - with its games.
The league announced Wednesday morning that it is beginning a partnership with Twitch to stream select games each week on the the social media and video platform that's become wildly popular with video gamers and boasts more than 15 million daily active viewers, with commentary initially coming from more than a dozen of the site's most popular personalities.
The games will begin streaming on Twich Dec. 15 and during the current 2017-18 regular season will feature up to six NBA G League games streaming live each week. After each live broadcast, the games will be available on demand.
The partnership, which will make the G League the first league to take advantage of some of Twitch's technological innovations, could be looked at as a potential precursor to a day where the NBA has game broadcasts in which viewers have a choice between a whole host of commentator options for the game, as opposed to listening to the play-by-play host assigned by the networks broadcasting it.
"Our deal with Twitch will be groundbreaking," said NBA G League President Malcolm Turner in the release promoting the announcement. "By leveraging fan commentary, new technology and a passionate community, Twitch elevates video in a unique, engaging way that resonates with young viewers. We look forward to collaborating with their team to create something truly special for basketball fans."
At first, Twitch will roll out the service featuring only some of its most prominent users from both the United States and around the world. It will allow users to "co-stream" - which would allow users to, among other things, show the feed of the game while talking about it, much like a regular play-by-play of a game. Others watching the stream can then comment on the broadcast as it is going on.
Twitch will also create an extension for the G League, which will allow fans to, among other things, access stats for players or teams from both the game and the entire G League season.
Initially, it will just be these prominent users that are able to do this. Over time, however, the plan is for it to be rolled out to the wider Twitch community.
"From Day 1, the NBA team got what Twitch is all about. We aren't a traditional sports experience on TV; we are much more," Michael Aragon, Twitch's Senior Vice President of Content, said in the release. "From our broadcasters to our engaged community to our interactive product that brings everyone together, collaborating with their team is going to bring a unique experience to basketball fans worldwide. We are thrilled to be working with the NBA G League and look forward to seeing the impact of social video on mainstream sports."
This isn't the first time the NBA has been associated with such an idea. Back in September, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver spoke here at the Code Commerce event and said that he hopes that the ways sports are broadcast haven't changed in 30 years - and that Twitch has the ability to start changing that.
"I mean, high definition's made a huge difference," Silver said, "but if you look at the basic way games are broadcast, there's a mid-level play-by-play camera that follows back and forth and two end zone cameras that can follow the action and others. But it looks pretty much the same way it always has.
"Now if you think about, if anyone here is a gamer, if you go on Twitch for example and see what it's like to follow those competitions, it's sort of constant chatter of fans there's all kinds of other information appearing on the screen. I think to older consumers used to looking at sports it might look incredibly cluttered, but as Facebook and other services experiment with live sports rights, and I'm sure Amazon's going to be doing the same thing, I think they don't have the same limitations cable and satellite historically have had."
That being said, the NBA won't be changing the way its games are being broadcast anytime soon, since it will be several more years until the league's current national television contract with ESPN and Turner Sports expires.
The NBA has also yet to decide how it will be broadcasting its upcoming NBA 2K League, which will begin play in May.
(Twitch is owned by Amazon; Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is the owner of The Washington Post.)