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Turner Sports tips off OTT service under Bleacher Report banner

Turner Broadcasting System Inc.'s Turner Sports is poised to jump into the streaming sports fray, tipping its new over-the-top service next week under the heading of its Bleacher Report digital brand.

Bleacher Report Live, or B/R Live, is slated to bow April 7 with coverage of former college star quarterback and NFL bust Johnny Manziel in The Spring League, a pro football scouting and event showcase. Among the thousands of live sporting properties that will be available via the streaming service are UEFA Champions League matches, NBA League Pass games, 65 NCAA championship events, the PGA Championship, National Lacrosse League, Red Bull Global Rallycross and the World Arm Wrestling League.

The product will feature a scroll feed of real-time sporting events and search tools for users to locate and then link to watch the event. As users indicate favorite teams and leagues, the service's personalization functions will aggregate events users want to watch.

Turner Sports' announcement of B/R Live at a March 27 press conference at Bleacher Report's Manhattan office comes ahead of the debut of ESPN Plus, the Walt Disney Co. streaming service expected to debut in April with access to thousands of live events for $4.99 per month. It follows the launch in February of CBS Corp.'s news and ad-supported highlights and analysis service, CBS Sports HQ.

Powered by iStream Planet, the streaming infrastructure company Turner purchased in 2015, B/R Live will initially be available on iOS, Android and through the Bleacher Report website. B/R Live General Manager Hania Poole said in interview after the presentation that the streaming service is working toward deals for connected TV devices that will be play in before the Champions League kicks off in mid-August.

At the outset, B/R Live will be available as a free preview service to attract sampling and users. Pricing plans will kick in this summer, with viewers able to choose programming on either an event basis, or through full-season subscription packages.

Beginning with the 2018-19 campaign, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who appeared on stage at the press event with Turner Broadcasting President David Levy, said that under a new "micro-transaction model," hoop fans will be able to access differing segments of a game, perhaps five minutes for 99 cents, for example, with notices from Bleacher Report or the NBA's social media accounts able to steer viewers to the last few minutes of a particularly tight contest or a player approaching 50 points or other milestones.

"When you have a two-and-half-hour event, some fans don't have time to watch an entire game," Silver said. He called this initiative "a logical evolution" of the NBA's League Pass, which started with full-season offerings of out-of-market games and now sells specific team packages, or individual games for $7.

The reduced game rate League Pass option will also be available through NBA.com and the NBA app. Turner and the NBA jointly operate and manage NBA Digital, encompassing a portfolio of the league's digital properties.

Levy in an interview after the event said that pricing structures for B/R Live and the partial NBA games in particular are still being worked on. He talked about pro-rating pricing tied to the length of viewing of the NBA contests.

Levy said that the vision for Bleacher Report since the time Turner bought it in 2012 was for it to become "a virtual network." He said the streaming service should appeal to Bleacher Report’s young audience of sports fans, 75% of whom are under 35, and whose viewing habits continue to evolve. Pricing flexibility, he believes, will allow users to dip into an event, or engage for a full season with something they are extremely passionate about.

Bleacher Report's users' interest in European football informed Turner's decision to secure exclusive U.S. rights for three years to the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, which are expected to be top draws for the DTC product.

As to the service's capabilities to identify where a game is being shown — amidst various devices and rights-holders — and then direct users to it, Levy said that will bring more fans to the site and build brand affinity for B/R Live. Along those lines, he discussed how New York Yankees fans could find that a Bronx Bombers ballgame is available on YES Network (US), WPIX-TV Channel 11, TBS (US), FOX (US), FOX Sports 1 (US) or ESPN (US), and how the service could help take them to those outlets.

Poole after the presentation said promotion for the service will begin this weekend within Turner Sports coverage of the Final Four of NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship. She said more promotional activity will be dedicated to the start of seasons and key events, with a heavy ramp-up forthe kickofff of the 2018-19 Champions League campaign.