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NBA, Microsoft use A.I. to create a personalized, fan-focused streaming service

A new sports streaming service designed to personalize the fan experience will soon be in the works, thanks to an alliance announced Thursday between the NBA and Microsoft.

According to a press release, the multiyear collaboration will create a “new, innovative, direct-to-consumer platform” on Microsoft Azure, the company’s framework of cloud services.  The streaming service will use machine learning and artificial intelligence to provide personalized game broadcasts and other content.

For now, the NBA and Microsoft have not announced a launch date for the new service.

We’ve partnered with @Microsoft to redefine and personalize the fan experience. Powered by Microsoft Azure and AI, together we’re creating a direct-to-consumer platform that delivers new fan engagement experiences and streaming capabilities.

— NBA (@NBA) April 16, 2020

“We are thrilled to serve as the official A.I. partner of the NBA,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a statement. “Together, we’ll bring fans closer to the game and players they love with new personalized experiences powered by Microsoft Azure.”

The goal behind the new platform is to give fans a new way to engage with the NBA from their own devices, aided by custom, local experiences for the basketball league’s global fanbase. The press release adds that in addition to live and on-demand game broadcasts, the NBA’s data sources, and historical video archives will be brought to fans by way of “machine learning, cognitive search, and advanced data analytics solutions.”

In other words, the two companies are pushing for a more personalized fan experience, one that brings the content each fan wants to see to them based on their own personal preferences. There’s going to be plenty of insight and game analysis, of course, because it is a sports-centric streaming service. But it’s reportedly going to be delivered with technology that is meant to add a different dimension to the game basketball fans love.

For instance, the A.I. technology that Microsoft brings to the table could “learn” what kind of content each fan likes, and automatically optimize the experience for them. If a player they’re watching breaks a record, the service could pull up content directly related to that achievement.

According to Variety, the NBA has plans to introduce “loyalty points” as incentive for fans interacting within the service, whether that be in the form of watching games, sharing content they’ve seen, or purchasing tickets and merchandise. This would include a tiered reward system often found in video games, with these rewards potentially being redeemable for discounts on other NBA products or services.

“This partnership with Microsoft will help us redefine the way our fans experience NBA basketball,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said. “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 team and players.”

As part of the alliance, Microsoft will become the Official Artificial Intelligence Partner and an Official Cloud and Laptop Partner for the NBA, WNBA, NBA G League, and USA Basketball starting with the 2020-21 NBA season. Microsoft will also be the entitlement partner of the NBA Draft Combine beginning next season, as well as an associate partner of future marquee events including the NBA All-Star Game, NBA Summer League, and WNBA All-Star Game.

The NBA is currently offering a free preview of NBA League Pass, the league’s own subscription-based digital product, until April 22.

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