US sports channel ESPN is experimenting with a teen-focused NBA broadcast on the platform’s app that reflects traditional sports’ pivot to viewing experiences more similar to the game streaming platform Twitch.

This is according to a report in Variety, which reports that the sports media giant will combine traditional hosts, analysts, the host of its SnapChat SportsCentre show, and a basketball YouTube influencer in a special Game 2 broadcast; the four hosts will appear at the bottom of the screen with the game playing above them while they converse on events as they happen.

Meanwhile, emoji-style symbols will fizz across the screen in reaction to the onscreen action – think ‘fire’ after a big three-pointer.

“We see an opportunity to reach younger people who are changing the way they consume content,” explained Katie Nolan, one of the hosts and a regular podcaster for the network. “Maybe there will be pizza.” As a host, she foresees the experience being friendlier than the typical panel of pundits, and with more freedom to interpret and make mistakes. “But that’s what happens when you are sitting on a couch with friends.”

The experiment reflects ESPN’s diagnosis of a shift in sports broadcasting. The network perceives a generation of viewers who have grown up watching live games in the style of the Amazon-owned game streaming platform Twitch.

Tim Hanlon, CEO of Vertere Group, a media consultancy, observed in comments to Variety that this “is really the Twitch-ification of television”. His analysis goes beyond the emojis, however, and into what makes both e-sports and traditional sports: a generation is growing up “looking at data, graphics and interaction with others as their primary focus and the game is almost sort of the background to that activity”.

E-sports are expanding in prominence around the world. While they look quite different from physical sports, much of the enjoyment that people derive from statistics and probabilities translates across both. In China, KFC used this insight to place its brand into the centre of the action with a win-predictions AI.

ESPN is also aware that one size is failing to fit all. The network has been experimenting with different content for different audiences based on the same sporting event, as it did with its broadcast of the recent NFL Draft.

One broadcast catered to hard-core sports fans who follow the league religiously; the other was more emotional, and took the time to tell the backstories of the players. Ed Placey, a senior coordinating producer at the network, explained that “we can serve multiple kinds of audience without alienating anyone”.

Sourced from Variety, WARC