NBA testing 99-cent stream that lets you watch the final quarter of a live game

The NBA has a plethora of streaming options for basketball fans. If you want the whole season-long, league-wide package, there’s League Pass. But NBA Digital (a joint effort between the league and Turner) has also broken out additional offerings that cost less money, like team-specific subscriptions and the option to pay for individual games. Now the NBA is testing another, obvious-when-you-think-about-it idea: letting fans watch the 4th quarter of a live, in-progress game for just 99 cents.

On Twitter, Vasu Kulkarni shared a screenshot of a notification sent by the NBA app. For less than a buck, he could hop in and stream the end of a game between the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder. The Verge has reached out to NBA Digital for more specifics on how many fans are being presented with this option. I haven’t seen other screenshots or instances of it, and it’s very possible that the price could change as the NBA tries to find a sweet spot. 99 cents seems like a good one, though. Presumably the usual annoyances with these things (i.e. blackouts for local teams) also apply here.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has hinted at this idea in the past. At CES two years ago, he said “I think you’re going to get to the point where somebody wants to watch the last five minutes of the game, and they go click, they’ll pay a set price for five minutes as opposed to what they would pay for two hours of the game.” And at Recode’s Code Commerce in 2017, he said he wanted the NBA’s presentation — in some cases — to look more like Twitch. You know what Twitch is very good at? Bringing in micro-payments.

ESPN reporter Darren Rovell predicts that the NBA could turn micro-transactions into a “significant revenue stream” for fans who want to catch the pivotal ending moments of a game. It’s a tiny, tiny fraction of the price of a full League Pass subscription, so it’s a much easier sell for casual fans who would hesitate to fork out for the big package but have no issue paying 99 cents when they get a push notification about a close, high-stakes game. Silver also mentioned the possibility of these streams being offered when a player has a chance of breaking an all-time record or reaching other notable achievements.

It’s very easy to see this model working for other sports. In some ways, the NFL already started it with RedZone, but that’s a subscription channel you pay for that covers every team, every game, and runs the whole season. It doesn’t have the same “sure, why not” appeal of micro-payments. The NBA risks cutting into its own League Pass profits and angering cable partners with a move like this, but it feels inevitable.

And even more important, it could help cut down on people turning to free, pirated live streams when they’re unwilling to sign up for a recurring subscription or watch through other, legal means.

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