NBA Rakuten OTT service grows Japanese subscriber base by 600%

Japan now home to NBA’s third largest audience for streaming.

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  • Rakuten rolled out dedicated NBA streaming platform last October
  • Interactive viewing supporting growth, says NBA Asia MD Scott Levy
  • League has seen 120k new Instagram followers in India since post-Covid resumption

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has grown its over-the-top (OTT) reach in Japan by more than 600 per cent since launching its dedicated NBA Rakuten streaming channel in collaboration with the ecommerce giant last year.

The figure was revealed by NBA Asia’s managing director Scott Levy during the opening day of this week’s SportsPro Asia virtual summit, with Levy citing the addition of interactive viewing features to its live streamed coverage for the audience spike.

As part of their broadcast agreement, Rakuten rolled out the NBA Rakuten service in October last year, and made every game from the NBA's 2019/20 season, as well as the NBA League Pass digital subscription service, available via the platform.

According to Levy, the growth makes Japan home to the NBA’s largest OTT subscriber base outside neighbouring China and the league's home market, where Rakuten also holds TV and shirt sponsorship rights with the Golden State Warriors.

“Last year, we introduced a new service called NBA Rakuten, the new home of the NBA in Japan,” Levy said. “They offer two games a day, local commentary, and have lots of original programming … featuring highlights and analysis.

“We want to educate our fans and attract new followers. Rakuten also launched a live chat and a forum featuring local personalities to encourage fan engagement within the platform.”

Levy also referenced the NBA’s continued push into India via its regional social media channels, which have seen substantial follower growth since the league’s resumption in July.

“On digital, we’ve adopted a global approach and now tailored that to a local audience using Facebook and Instagram in particular,” Levy continued. “In fact, since the restart of the NBA season a few months ago, we’ve added more than 120,000 new followers on Instagram in India.

“That’s the largest growth of any country [we’ve seen] in the world,” Levy added, while also predicting that India will become the home to the NBA's largest international fan base within the next five years.

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