Deeper Dive—With tip off soon, the NBA’s new streaming service is still on the bench

It’s been roughly 18 months since the NBA announced a partnership with Microsoft to build a new streaming service.

Now, with the 2021-2022 NBA season set to begin next week, that service doesn’t seem like it will show up in time for tip off. “We will announce the launch date and availability of the new direct-to-customer product at a later time,” a Microsoft spokesperson told Fierce Video.

Consumers still have lots of options to stream NBA games either through virtual MVPDs, authenticated apps or NBA League Pass, which allows subscribers to watch on multiple devices and download games for offline viewing.

But the still-in-the-works NBA direct-to-consumer product—which will be built on Microsoft Azure and will use machine learning and artificial intelligence to deliver personalized game broadcasts and other content offerings—sounds like a more intriguing option.

"This partnership with Microsoft will help us redefine the way our fans experience NBA basketball," said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver in a statement. "Our goal, working with Microsoft, is to create customized content that allows fans — whether they are in an NBA arena or watching from anywhere around the world — to immerse themselves in all aspects of the game and engage directly with our teams and players."

However, while the launch details are still under wraps for the NBA’s new streaming service, the league and Microsoft have shared some news about the kind of features that may play a role. In August, the companies announced NBA CourtOptix, a cloud-based data analysis system that uses “spatial position information about players and the ball to derive meaningful insights into the action during a game.” The NBA is already using this feature on its Twitter feed and in game broadcasts.

The league works with partner that provides cameras to track movements by the players and the ball 25 times a second, which equals nearly 2 billion data points over the course of an NBA season.

Charlie Rohlf, associate vice president of stats technology product development at for the NBA, said the technology lets the league zero in on and time stamp certain events during the game, which in turn lets fans filter to see only what they want to see. The NBA will eventually cull its data down according to fan preferences.

“Down the road, we want to personalize these statistical insights so that fans can more easily get what they want,” said Rohlf in a blog post. “If we know you like a particular team, we can recommend insights about that team more readily, without you needing to search for them. We’re also excited about what we can do with Azure in terms of visualizations. We hope to do more in that area to bring our player and game insights to a broader audience through the web and social media.”

Ken DeGennaro, senior vice president of media operations and technology for the NBA, said it’s about recognizing changes in fan engagement.

“For many years, basketball games were very much a one-way presentation focused on television broadcasts. With digital media, it’s more of a bidirectional relationship where fans can engage directly with us and provide feedback simply by using the platform,” he said.