Turner’s David Levy Talks New OTT Platform, Consumption Habits, Access

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — David Levy, President of Turner, spoke at the Sixth Annual Michigan Sport Business Conference this past Friday.

Levy fielded questions around the ever-evolving media landscape and how Bleacher Report — Turner’s digital sports property that it acquired in August 2012 — allows the seasoned executive to better understand the consumption habits of the coveted 18-34-year-old demographic. He called the present “the greatest time to be in the media business, but it’s also the scariest time to be in the media business. Technology is disrupting people’s viewing habits, their viewing patterns.”

The 30-year Turner employee specifically highlighted the potential for last-minute game purchases via Bleacher Report, saying that if the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers were tied in the final two minutes of a game, fans could receive a Bleacher Report alert notifying them. The push notification could then prompt them to buy the final 120 seconds for $0.99.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver referenced a similar opportunity at the Consumer Electronics Show in January where he suggested fans may have the ability to purchase the final five minutes of games for a discounted price, either through Twitter or another medium. In December 2015, ESPN Sports Business Reporter Darren Rovell tweeted the need for last-minute purchases as well. Still, the time table for such a viewing experience is yet to be determined.

Below are a few more thoughts from Levy at MSBC. 

On Turner’s new over-the-top platform, which will launch in April 2018, and include UEFA matches as part of a three-year rights agreement: We wanted to launch into soccer. … We needed what I would call an ‘anchor tenant’. We weren’t going to move on the NBA. We weren’t going to move our NCAA Tournament. What property in that (18-34-year-old) demographic is something where we know we could get people attracted to it? Soccer was it. We knew it was soccer based on the data we were collecting at Bleacher Report.

On Turner acquiring Bleacher Report in August 2012 for around $175 million – $200 million: People thought we were making a bad decision. We saw pretty early that there was no way we could compete on sports rights without having a mobile, digital content play. With ESPN, FOX or anyone else who was bidding, they had a destination. Turner Sports wasn’t a digital destination, so there was no way to monetize all of these digital rights we were acquiring. If we didn’t have ways to commoditize it and we couldn’t get the property, that means subscription rates on the linear side could go down. We didn’t have the NBA, March Madness or the PGA or anything else. It was a necessity that we had to get into. We tried to work a little bit with Sports Illustrated, but they were of the thinking that print was going to sustain itself. That didn’t work out. Sports Illustrated … went back to Time, Inc. and we bought Bleacher Report.

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On Bleacher Report potentially being its own network in five years (in reference to a comment Levy made at a SportsBusiness Journal conference in April): Defining a network today versus the definition of what a network was going to be 10 years ago is different. It’s not going to be on the television set. It’s going to be where you are. It’s going to be a connected product. Bleacher is going to have live sports. Bleacher is going to be in pay-per-view. Bleacher is going to be about e-commerce. Bleacher is going to be about setting trends, pop culture. It’s going to be agnostic.

On pace of play changes and shortening games in the major U.S. sports leagues: I think all of the leagues are trying to carve three to five minutes off of their game. You’re not going to change baseball and nine innings, it’s three outs. You’re not going to change the time clock on the NBA. I think it’s really about you show the game. … (Los Angeles Angels outfielder) Mike Trout should be the most recognizable person. He should be like LeBron James. You don’t know him like that, though. He could walk down Madison Avenue, and you wouldn’t recognize him. That’s a problem. I think there’s no access to players in baseball right now. There’s no access to them talking at first base or second base or the pitching mound. There’s no understanding of what Mike Trout likes or what kind of car he drives, the conversations in the locker room. What 18-34-year-olds want is access. They want access. They want to know their players. I’m in the tunnel and seeing what (Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook) is wearing. We’re in the huddle. We’re not giving any secrets out during an NBA game. … I think access is the number one thing that the young consumers really want to see. I think television would be more intriguing and the game would be more intriguing. You wouldn’t be as worried about the length of the game.

On NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and what makes him so unique and successful: He’s been very proactive on technology. He has let his content flow freely. … He’s let the consumer put the content on YouTube, put it on Facebook, put it on Instagram. He didn’t have a fear of what that might do to NBA.com and things of that nature. He was very proactive with technology early on. He’s also very close with the players. He has a very good relationship with the owners and the players. That’s unusual. By the way, I don’t know how many years he was David Stern’s Deputy Commissioner but I’m sure that had a lot to do with him being successful early on and how he handled the whole (Donald Sterling situation with the Los Angeles Clippers) 88 days into his job. That made a very, very strong impression with the players.
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About Mark J. Burns

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