Advance step: Gen AI, data and cloud on the radar for British Basketball League as production transformation continues

Credit: British Basketball League

Twelve months ago, Jose Garnes, chief content office at the British Basketball League, shared his grand plans for transforming media operations at the league with SVG Europe. With plans to bring production in house, building a whole new team in the process, as well as moving to a remote production model and focusing on social media to build awareness of the league, ambitions were clearly high.

So, one year on, as the league celebrates another successful season, how have the plans progressed?

Speaking ahead of the Playoff Finals, held at the O2 in London on 19 May, Garnes says: “When you fast forward a year, we have hit the biggest event of the season with a fully in-house production. When we last spoke a lot of the stuff that we mentioned was theories of what we wanted to do and how we wanted to accomplish it. 225 games later we are, one, pretty happy that we survived, but two, excited about what we have achieved in the last 10 months in terms of getting a production off the ground at the scale that we wanted to do.”

The in-house team of 16 now produces all games of the Men’s league, which means anywhere between six and eight games per week, one of which is broadcast on Sky linear channels. Distribution has also extended to the US, where NBC, Yes Network, Bally, NSN and Fubo have all picked it up. The remaining games are broadcast on the League’s YouTube channel, but this strategy has also evolved as BBL looks to attract a wider, and younger, audience.

“We started broadcasting on TikTok and Twitch to expand our reach to a younger audience, and also an audience that probably was not aware of the British Basketball League,” he explains. “On YouTube, we already had a good audience that were part of the heritage of the league, but we wanted to expand to those that were not aware that we have a professional basketball league in the UK.

“TikTok has a stronger algorithm in short-form content and they value a lot of live content. So by going live our reach gets exposed exponentially higher, with very low cost to us. If people engage with the content and watch the live stream for more than a few seconds, then they’re going to start getting served our VOD content later on when they log into the platform, so we have seen our audience growing organically.”

“I think in sport, when we talk about generative AI there is always almost that fear of how is it going to replace creatives, but for us it’s actually giving us a tool to create something more bespoke that we were able to turn around very quickly. I think the future is about finding those tools and using them to create volume”

Indeed BBL content is already registering impressive viewing and engagement figures. “On TikTok, we are now at the same level of viewership as YouTube. Now, TikTok has less watch time because traditionally people are scrolling and the attention span is shorter, but we’re getting the reach without having to go into a paid media strategy,” Garnes reveals.

“We are also exploring a partnership with Twitch where we can offer high-quality content and ‘safe’ content, so we know that our streams won’t be saying something that can be damaging for the platform or for our brand. We have featured on their homepage and we are getting a high volume of views, around 120,000 per stream, and around 6 million minutes watch. Again, it’s an awareness tool. As a new entity in this country, you need any partner that can help you, or any tools or strategy that can help you, with that awareness. And Twitch and Tik Tok are helping us with that.”

Read more: All change: British Basketball League Playoff Finals go remote with in-house production team

TikTok and Twitch content is also clipped for Instagram where it is garnering between 10,000 and 50,000 views.

“The heavy lifting of putting something out live or recording it is almost the same, but we’re getting two hits – live and VOD,” says Garnes. “And that’s where we’ve seen our biggest engagement – fans are enjoying seeing content that is outside of your traditional sport coverage of great highlights, great commentary. Now what they want is analysis by a person that is closer to them that feels like a fan instead of a commentator or an official voice from the league.”

Generative AI

Given the changes that have happened at BBL this season, it’s no surprise that Garnes is already thinking about the future, and equally unsurprising is the fact that he believes generative AI has a role to play in telling the story of the league.

“We have trialled generative AI,” he reveals. “Eight teams qualified for the Playoffs and we wanted to create a bespoke sizzle to say ‘London made it to the playoffs’ and so on. We created a bespoke song for each team using generative AI. So we went ‘okay, London Lions, what describes them as a team’, and we fed that prompt into the software and then we created a track. We did that for all eight teams. For me, that’s exciting because you’re not using AI to replace the craftsmanship of an editor, instead you’re using generative AI to create something that feels more specific to a team, and you’re allowing them to shine and to make them feel special and unique.

“I think in sport, when we talk about generative AI there is always almost that fear of how is it going to replace creatives, but for us it’s actually giving us a tool to create something more bespoke that we were able to turn around very quickly. I think the future is about finding those tools and using them to create volume.”

Cloud and data are also on the agenda. “We definitely want to explore how we can create our games completely in the cloud. Right now, we are doing remote production, but we still have physical facilities. We’re looking at ways that we can do what we’re doing with cloud technology,” he continues.

Credit: British Basketball League

“We also want to bring more analysis into our broadcasts and storytelling. And part of that is how we can optimise our graphics and use more of Unreal Engine to create something that is of high production value, that looks glossy, but also that is lightweight on the resources to export a render, because we’re going to be in a live environment. So behind the scenes, we’re working on creating our own graphics tools and presets that we can launch next season where they look quite high level, but they’ll actually be quite low on resources.”

Of course none of this innovation would be possible without the right team in place. Garnes concludes: “One of the best decisions that we made was the people that we brought in. I’m very proud of the team that we have; we have a highly diverse team. And what I mean by diversity is almost every element to describe diversity – age, gender, country of origin, background. That allows all of us to come from almost the same page in that we want to do something different and there is no bad idea that can be thrown into the group. That gives a confidence to people to go and execute.”

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