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YouTube signs NBA's Durant, upping ante with Facebook, Twitter

The deal with Kevin Durant's startup marks a new push to attract sports fans eager to watch action on and off the court.

Kyle Mietz can't get enough of Golden State Warriors' star Kevin Durant.

He watches the near-7-foot-tall basketball star trounce opponents on the court. He follows the NBA star's off-court exploits on Instagram, along with 9.2 million other fans.

And soon he may be watching on YouTube as well, where Durant's official channel has attracted 15 million views in less than a year, with videos of behind-the-scenes workouts, candid question-and-answer sessions with fans (no more Twitter trolling), and charity work.

Golden State Warriors v Toronto Raptors

Basketball star Kevin Durant will be using his talents to provide more sports content on YouTube.

Getty Images

"We want to know he's doing, what's on his mind. Everything," the 25-year-old Mietz said Monday at an outdoor bar in Oakland, California, where he'd been watching -- what else? -- the Warriors beat their archrival, the Cleveland Cavaliers.  

Mietz isn't the only who'll be watching Durant closely. YouTube is striking a partnership with the player's startup, Thirty Five Media, to create more sports-related content for its site. Both YouTube and Durant's company declined to say how much money's involved in the deal or how long it's for.

"We have a lot of ideas as we continue to expand as a company," Durant told CNET in an email.

The deal is the latest example of how tech companies are turning to broadcast sports in an effort to attract people to their sites and platforms. Amazon has struck a deal to stream Thursday night NFL games and Twitter airs pro sports including baseball, lacrosse and soccer, while Yahoo has snagged the rights to the NFL playoffs.

But as prices for these deals grow -- Amazon's NFL deal was worth a reported $50 million, five times as much what Twitter paid in 2016 -- social networking giants like Facebook have begun making deals with individual athletes like the reclusive Marshawn Lynch to helm their own shows that net millions of viewers. This month, the social network will run a six-part documentary series focused on the typically reserved Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady, by Gotham Chopra, who's made other sports films.

"It's become a free for all," said Adam Earnheardt, a Youngstown State University professor specializing in social media. "There used to be three or four networks on TV vying for our attention, but now there's 200 to 300 channels just online."

Add YouTube to that mix, as it looks to offer sports fans like Mietz ever more ways to watch.

Still, it remains unclear whether the Google-owned video giant will be as successful as Facebook appears to have been. Durant's YouTube channel, for example, counts more than 500,000 subscribers, far fewer than the 59 million people who subscribe to gaming-focused YouTube star PewDiePie, or the 33 million who anxiously await the next music video from pop sensation Justin Bieber.

Additionally, Facebook apparently has a strong head start. The young basketball duo LiAngelo Ball and LaMelo Ball have already amassed 44 million viewers for the first season of their reality TV-style show, "Ball in the Family." The show, which also stars their controversial father, LaVar Ball, has 32 million viewers so far in its second season, was mostly shot overseas after LiAngelo caused an international incident when he was caught shoplifting in China.

Durant's follower counts may seem small now, but he is the 12th most-popular athlete on social media, according to MVPindex. Ultimately, Durant's deal may be seen as low risk, high reward, said Michael Goldman, a sports management professor at the University of San Francisco.

"Fans can't get enough of a player's backstory," he said. "And with tech it's all about experimentation."

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