Jan 28, 2021 - Sports

The NBA battle for the "second screen" is almost as important as the game itself

Illustration of a giant foam finger holding a phone

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Tonight's NBA doubleheader will be broadcast on TNT, which means the network will almost certainly draw more viewers than its competitors throughout the evening.

Yes, but: While the battle for the "first screen" (broadcast) has already been won, the battle for the "second screen" (social media) will happen in real-time.

Why it matters: With an increasing number of young NBA fans following the league mostly through social media, the content published on Twitter, Instagram and other platforms during games is now almost as important as the game itself.

The state of play: In 2019, 88% of Americans were using "a second digital device while watching TV," according to Nielsen. That number is likely higher for live sports — and it's absolutely higher among younger viewers.

What they're saying: "It's no longer enough to say, 'Hey, the game is at 7:30 on this channel, tune in,'" says Julian Patterson, Bleacher Report's senior director of social.

  • "There's a high likelihood that if you're watching the game on your TV, you have your phone in your hand. And you might have a laptop or tablet in your lap, too. So there are three screens competing for your attention," he added.
  • "With Bleacher Report and our other brands like House of Highlights, we're trying to create a holistic ecosystem that compliments the game experience and is interconnected between those devices."

Of note: Bleacher Report is one of the most engaging sports brands on social media. It's also owned by Turner (which owns TNT), making tonight an opportune time for the two to combine forces and own every screen.

Between the lines: While publishers like Bleacher Report and ESPN produce content during games, NBA team accounts do the same.

  • All the while, individuals like Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) — who's known for uploading clips almost immediately by filming his TV screen with his phone — are adding to the content-palooza.
  • In the end, so much content is created that one can get a fairly good grasp of what happened each night in the NBA without ever turning on a game.

The bottom line: The battle for the "first screen" is won ahead of time, and it's all about money. The battle for the "second screen" takes place on a nightly basis, and it's all about engagement.

Tonight's doubleheader: See you on Twitter (@TheKendallBaker)...

  • 7:30pm ET: Trail Blazers at Rockets
  • 10pm: Warriors at Suns
Go deeper