YES Network Looks To Deepen Fan Engagement With ‘Pick-N-Play Live’ Single-Screen Watch-and-Play Experience

The free-to-play prediction game taps into burgeoning sports-betting trend

Free-to-play prediction mobile games have become increasingly common as part of live sports broadcasts over the past year, but YES Network’s Pick-N-Play Live feature offers a major differentiator: the single-screen experience. While most others require fans to make predictions on their mobile devices and watch the game on television or a separate device, Pick-N-Play Live offers a real-time, in-game, single-screen watch-and-play experience housed entirely within the YES App.

“From a free-to-play perspective,” says Matt Duarte, head of strategy and business development, YES Network, “this has never been done before as a single-screen experience. From the very beginning, that single-screen experience was the most important aspect for us. When we first met with [technology provider] Simplebet, we were excited about the potential of doing [predictive gaming] during the game. And we made it clear that we wanted a single-screen experience to get people to stay in our ecosystem. That was what was going to differentiate this and take it to the next level.”

Upping Engagement: More Eyeballs Watching for Longer Periods of Time

Launched at the end of March on Nets games before debuting during Yankees games in April, the YES App’s Pick-N-Play Live was the first free-to-play prediction game to be integrated directly within a live sports broadcast. In addition to exploring the burgeoning world of sports-betting content (all four states in YES’s footprint have legalized sports-betting), YES’s primary goals with the game were to encourage longer watch times and deepen fan engagement. Two months later, Duarte believes it’s doing just that, notching upwards of 35 predictions made per unique user thus far.

Part of the YES App, Pick-N-Play Live allows fans to make predictions on pitches and at-bats and win prizes from within the live broadcast.

“We obviously want fans to watch our games, and we want them to watch for longer periods of time,” he says. “I think this hits both of those targets. We’ve seen a great uptick in adoption since we launched, especially for Yankees [games], in terms of people playing throughout the game. Even if the Yankees are up 7-2 in the ninth, fans are hanging around to win coins and prizes.”

Available to authenticated YES Network viewers on the YES App on iOS and Android, Pick-N-Play Live allows users to make live predictions on pitches and at-bats during every Yankees game. Fans can compete against friends and strangers for such prizes as a variety of gift cards, team merchandise, and occasional unique in-person experiences, with a live leaderboard updating throughout the game. YES offers three rounds of competition during each Yankees game, awarding prizes every three innings.

Entering the YES App, the user is greeted by the video player (on silent) showing the Yankees game. A coin icon at the bottom-right corner of the screen serves as a call to action for fans to participate in the Pick-N-Play Live game while watching. Via the Pick-N-Play Live interface, the app provides various questions depending on the game on which fans can make predictions. Once a prediction is made, users can keep track of all their current predictions, view the real-time leaderboard, and chat with other competitors all in the single interface.

“The hope is, there’s something for everyone,” says Duarte. “There is a simple first question like ‘Is the batter going to get on base or not?’ And then there’s one layer deeper where we ask, ‘Is it going to be a hit, a walk, an out, an error, etc.?’ And then we peel back the onion even deeper for those really hardcore fans, and they can predict the exact result of the at-bat. Those odds are updated in real time. For example, if Giancarlo [Stanton] is up against a lefty, I’m going to pick home run almost every time because I know that’s a big [trend] for him. Doing it this way opens an opportunity for every type of fan, from the die-hard to the casual fan.”

How It Was Developed: Simplebet at the Core

The app is powered by Simplebet’s suite of micro-betting products, which rely on proprietary machine-learning and automation capabilities to offer real-time odds.

YES Network also worked with its enterprise-app developer Clearbridge Mobile and graphics-overlay provider Ease Live to integrate Pick-N-Play Live into the overall YES App, which launched in March 2021. The YES Network graphics team – led by Rick Deutschman, senior director, creative design also played a significant role in the development to ensure that the style would remain true to the YES brand.

“In addition to lengthening the watch time and encouraging more interactions over the course of the game,” says Duarte, “another main goal of ours was to be authentic to the look and feel of our broadcast. We want it to feel like it’s genuinely part of the broadcast, not just an integration of a separate product. We want to be true to that Yankees-on-YES viewer experience. That’s why it was important for us to have our kind of fingerprints internally over all over the product.”

Simplicity was at the core of the Pick-N-Play Live development in terms of user interface. “The single-screen experience is brand-new,” he explains. “So we wanted to make sure that [users] could easily understand how to play and offer an intuitive, easy [interface]. We want them to be able to get the hang of it very easily after just a few uses without it being a headache.”

As with any live-streaming experience, latency concerns played a crucial role in development of Pick-N-Play Live.

“Obviously,” says Duarte, “we know that live streaming comes with some inherent latency. So we put a lot of work — along with Ease Live, ClearBridge, and Simplebet — into syncing the stream of the games to the actual predictions, outcomes, and notifications in order to preserve the customer experience. That was a major priority during our testing. We were very diligent about making sure that viewing experience was not compromised, and I think we got to a great place.”

In terms of day-to-day operations, the predictive-gaming aspect is automated and fully overseen by Simplebet. In addition, YES’s production team, app-development team, and the various vendors involved with the app are connected via a comms bridge for every live game to ensure a quality experience for users and make sure all parties are in sync.

Looking Ahead: New Features Coming and What’s Next for Sports Betting?

The Pick-N-Play Live game is the latest enhancement to the YES App, which introduced unique dynamic live stats, graphics overlays, and YES Watch Party offerings to its Yankees and Nets streams last year and recently added the capability to watch games in either portrait or landscape mode on mobile devices. Last season, the broadcaster also launched a pregame Pick-N-Play game that allows fans to make predictions before each game.

“This is the next step in our evolution,” says Duarte. “We launched the pregame Pick-N-Play game last summer, and this is just an extension of that. As we go forward through the season, we’ll be able to introduce new cool [features], such as more prop questions throughout the game. Now that we’ve launched, we’re beginning to introduce new, fun questions that can enhance and enrich the experience, and we’ll continue to do that as we go through the season.”

After two months of Pick-N-Play Live, Duarte has been happy with the usage metrics, especially that 35 predictions-per-user stat.

YES Pick-N-Play Live was designed to be simple to use and intuitive.

“The responses have been really positive, and people are coming back,” he says. “As we’ve continued to market and push the product, we’ve had more and more users come in with every game, which is really encouraging. I don’t have any specific numbers, but we’ve seen a very positive response. The important thing is repeat usage game-over-game and multiple engagements by unique users during each game.”

YES’s launch of a free-to-play game obviously hints at the network’s plans to create sports-betting experiences. With online sports-betting now legal in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania (all four states in YES’s footprint), many expect YES Network and other regional broadcasters to ramp up betting-related content and offerings in the near future. Though declining to provide details on plans, Duarte acknowledges that the launch of Pick-N-Play Live does put YES in a stronger position for whatever comes next on the sports-betting horizon.

“We are always thinking about, strategically, how we can prepare and what we want to do to play in that [sports-betting] space,” he says. “With Pick-N-Play, we were focused on activating that YES App user base and seeing what kind of engagement we would get in the free-to-play environment. That’s the critical information that we’re gathering now. Where we take it from here remains to be seen, but, obviously, it’s exciting, and it positions us very well for the future, depending on where we want to go in the [sports-betting] space. We’re continuing to focus on the free-to-play space right now and improve that experience, but, down the road, we’ll see what happens.”

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