As the NBA Returns, This Short-Form Video Startup Hopes to Score in China

Sam Blake

Sam primarily covers entertainment and media for dot.LA. Previously he was Marjorie Deane Fellow at The Economist, where he wrote for the business and finance sections of the print edition. He has also worked at the XPRIZE Foundation, U.S. Government Accountability Office, KCRW, and MLB Advanced Media (now Disney Streaming Services). He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson, an MPP from UCLA Luskin and a BA in History from University of Michigan. Email him at samblake@dot.LA and find him on Twitter @hisamblake

As the NBA Returns, This Short-Form Video Startup Hopes to Score in China

The video clip shows NBA hall-of-famer Karl Malone, the bruising power forward for the Utah Jazz, barreling down the lane and crashing head-on into what awaits. But the highlight doesn't show "The Mailman" delivering one of his punishing slam dunks. Instead, Malone is driving a dune buggy, and the obstacle he's trampled along the dirt path is now roadkill.

Such is the kind of short-form video content that appears on More Sports, an app developed and produced by Beverly Hills-based AIB Sportsbrands — and currently exclusively targeting China.

As China's love for basketball has grown over the years, several NBA players have earned their own Mandarin monikers. Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Stephen Curry goes by Wa Wa Lian Sha Shou: Babyfaced Assassin. 2019 NBA MVP Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose real name could stump a spelling bee champion, is called Alphabet Brother. And Demarcus Cousins, a big man in the twilight of his career, is Kao Shen – the transliteration of his last name, which also means "God of the Test." Some Chinese students have even been known to offer him a quick prayer before an exam.

"China is totally basketball crazy," summarizes Zak Dychtwald, author of "Young China" and consultant on all things related to the 400 million millennials in the biggest market on Earth.

And More Sports, which launched in 2019, believes it has a unique remedy for the Middle Kingdom's NBA infatuation.

The content on the app focuses on professional athletes' lives off the court. "It's what they do – how they train, their hobbies, what they cook. What they're like as real people," says Brooks Branch, AIB Sportsbrands' chief executive.

The roster of players who both star in the video content and are also equity partners with the company includes James Harden, and retired all-stars Steve Nash and Kevin Garnett.

The Chinese market can be hard for players to access, Branch and his co-founder Fred Goldring note, and athletes have been enthusiastic about using the app as a way to build their brands in unfamiliar territory. Many also appreciate the opportunity to play an unfamiliar position as entrepreneurs.

Celebrity excitement for these kinds of extracurricular channels is "usually in proportion to the size of the check," Branch says. "(But) in this case, it's a little bit like when indie boutique studios were popping up – when Disney bought Miramax, and Warner bought New Line. We're almost like that, where the talent's excited to do what we're doing and loving the spirit of what we're doing."

"We're getting engagement from these partners in an entrepreneurial way, much deeper than traditional sponsorship," Goldring adds.

Following several years of complex and costly negotiations with the Chinese authorities, the company was able to design an acceptable corporate structure and obtain the necessary broadcast licenses before launching last year. Branch chalks up their ability to get situated in what can often be a tricky environment for foreigners to hard work, persistence, connections, luck and "guanxi" – a Chinese term that he says means "goodwill juju". In other words, it was about "getting the right people to endorse us and getting friends in the right places."

The company says it has yet to make much money because most of the first year its app was in beta. But Branch tells dot.LA that things are off to a good start.

"We'd hoped to have one million active users in the first year and we have 6-7 times that," he says.

As an indication of what's possible, Chinese firm iResearch forecasts that China's short-form video market revenues will grow to nearly $30 billion by 2021. For comparison, the entire global market for recorded music revenue in 2019 was about $20 billion.

Branch admits that the postponed NBA season has likely fueled demand for More Sports, as fans in and outside of China have been starved of content. But as the league prepares to resume its season with a truncated schedule starting July 31, Branch and Goldring think More Sports is poised for growth, and profitability. The app was designed, they note, to complement the on-the-court action, rather than substitute for it.

The Chinese Market

Dychtwald points to two trends that could make More Sports particularly well-suited for the Chinese market.

One is basketball's popularity. China's love for the NBA, Dychtwald says, has grown steadily since the 1992 U.S. Olympic dream team boosted the international cache of the league and its culture. Chinese national Yao Ming was the first overall pick in the 2002 NBA draft, and his subsequent success with the Houston Rockets brought China's enthusiasm to new heights. The 2008 Beijing Olympics — which Dychtwald says brought "Kobe Fever" to the mainland — sealed the deal. Today basketball is up there with soccer as "far and away" the most popular sports in China, at least among the youth.

The second factor is More Sports' focus on short-form video. TikTok raked in $17 billion of revenue in 2019, according to Bloomberg. It's a format that Chinese consumers understand well, Dychtwald says.

"TikTok was made for China, by China," he adds. "(Short-form video) is far more natural and native to China than here."

Dychtwald also notes a recent trend in China of successful "products around products" that offer an insider's view of what's going on behind the scenes of, say, scripted drama programs. The country's version of Dancing With The Stars, for example, has spawned a successful spin-off that follows the participants off the dance floor.

Can More Sports Score More?

Branch, Goldring and More Sports head of talent Bill Sanders all have backgrounds that give the app an edge, they say. Goldring is an Emmy-winning executive producer and former entertainment lawyer whose clients included Beyoncé and Will Smith. Sanders is a sports agent who works with Yao Ming on his Napa-based wine company. And Branch has a long history in entertainment, branding and creative development, including running a division at Paramount Pictures and advising several other major studios.

The team also highlights the deep market research they conducted as a reason for their initial success.

"What we did really well was not try to be anything other than what the fans wanted in China," Branch says.

They plan to take a similar, culturally tailored approach as they expand into other international markets. Launching in the U.S., they say, will come last.

Dychtwald wonders whether More Sports would benefit from pursuing a multi-platform strategy, providing content to the many short-form video platforms such as TikTok that already have a foothold in China. Goldring notes that the company has distribution partnership deals with Chinese digital incumbents including TikTok-parent company ByteDance's Douyin platform, WeChat and Tencent.

The company also touts another advantage: being based in Los Angeles, the world's center stage for where sports meets entertainment. It's no coincidence, they say, that the 1980s Los Angeles Lakers were known as "Showtime."

This year's Lakers are among the 22 teams set to participate in the NBA's salvaged season. Fans in China, who've fallen increasingly in love with the purple and gold since catching Kobe Fever, will have plenty to watch, both on and off the court.


Sam Blake primarily covers media and entertainment for dot.LA. Find him on Twitter @hisamblake and email him at samblake@dot.LA

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Creandum’s Carl Fritjofsson on the Differences Between the Startup Ecosystem in Europe and the U.S.

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

Carl Fritjofsson
Carl Fritjofsson

On this episode of the LA Venture podcast, Creandum General Partner Carl Fritjofsson talks about his venture journey, why Generative-AI represents an opportunity to rethink products from the ground up, and why Q4 2023 and Q1 2024 could be "pretty bloody" for startups.

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AI Is Rapidly Advancing, but the Question Is, Can We Keep Up?

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
AI Is Rapidly Advancing, but the Question Is, Can We Keep Up?
Evan Xie

One way to measure just how white-hot AI development has become: the world is running out of the advanced graphics chips necessary to power AI programs. While Intel central processing units were once the most sought-after industry leaders, advanced graphics chips like Nvidia’s are designed to run multiple computations simultaneously, a baseline necessity for many AI models.

An early version of ChatGPT required around 10,000 graphics chips to run. By some estimates, newer updates require 3-5 times that amount of processing power. As a result of this skyrocketing demand, shares of Nvidia have jumped 165% so far this year.

Building on this momentum, this week, Nvidia revealed a line-up of new AI-related projects including an Israeli supercomputer project and a platform utilizing AI to help video game developers. For smaller companies and startups, however, getting access to the vital underlying technology that powers AI development is already becoming less about meritocracy and more about “who you know.” According to the Wall Street Journal, Elon Musk scooped up a valuable share of server space from Oracle this year before anyone else got a crack at it for his new OpenAI rival, X.AI.

The massive demand for Nvidia-style chips has also created a lucrative secondary market, where smaller companies and startups are often outbid by larger and more established rivals. One startup founder compares the fevered crush of the current chip marketplace to toilet paper in the early days of the pandemic. For those companies that don’t get access to the most powerful chips or enough server space in the cloud, often the only remaining option is to simplify their AI models, so they can run more efficiently.

Beyond just the design of new AI products, we’re also at a key moment for users and consumers, who are still figuring out what sorts of applications are ideal for AI and which ones are less effective, or potentially even unethical or dangerous. There’s now mounting evidence that the hype around some of these AI tools is reaching a lot further than the warnings about its drawbacks.

JP Morgan Chase is training a new AI chatbot to help customers choose financial securities and stocks, known as IndexGPT. For now, they insist that it’s purely supplemental, designed to advise and not replace money managers, but it may just be a matter of time before job losses begin to hit financial planners along with everyone else.

A lawyer in New York just this week was busted by a judge for using ChatGPT as part of his background research. When questioned by the judge, lawyer Peter LoDuco revealed that he’d farmed out some research to a colleague, Steven A. Schwartz, who had consulted with ChatGPT on the case. Schwartz was apparently unaware that the AI chatbot was able to lie – transcripts even show him questioning ChatGPT’s responses and the bot assuring him that these were, in fact, real cases and citations.

New research by Marucie Jakesch, a doctoral student from Cornell University, suggests that even users who are more aware than Schwartz about how AI works and its limitations may still be impacted in subtle and subconscious ways by its output.

Not to mention, according to data from, high school and college students already – on the whole – prefer utilizing ChatGPT for help with schoolwork over a human tutor. The survey also notes that advanced students tend to report getting more out of using ChatGPT-type programs than beginners, likely because they have more baseline knowledge and can construct better and more informative prompts.

But therein lies the big drawback to using ChatGPT and other AI tools for education. At least so far, they’re reliant on the end user writing good prompts and having some sense about how to organize a lesson plan for themselves. Human tutors, on the other hand, have a lot of personal experience in these kinds of areas. Someone who instructs others in foreign languages professionally probably has a good inherent sense of when you need to focus on expanding your vocabulary vs. drilling certain kinds of verb and tense conjugations. They’ve helped many other students prepare for tests, quizzes, and real-world challenges, while computer software can only guess at what kinds of scenarios its proteges will face.

A recent Forbes editorial by academic Thomas Davenport suggests that, while AI is getting all the hype right now, other forms of computing or machine learning are still going to be more effective for a lot of basic tasks. From a marketing perspective in 2023, it’s helpful for a tech company to throw the “AI” brand around, but it’s not magically going to be the answer for every problem.

Davenport points to a similar (if smaller) whirlwind of excitement around IBM’s “Watson” in the early 2010s, when it was famously able to take out human “Jeopardy!’ champions. It turns out, Watson was a general knowledge engine, really best suited for jobs like playing “Jeopardy.” But after the software gained celebrity status, people tried to use it for all sorts of advanced applications, like designing cancer drugs or providing investment advice. Today, few people turn to Watson for these kinds of solutions. It’s just the wrong tool for the job. In that same way, Davenport suggests that generative AI is in danger of being misapplied.

While the industry and end users both race to solve the AI puzzle in real time, governments are also feeling pressure to step in and potentially regulate the AI industry. This is much easier said than done, though, as politicians face the same kinds of questions and uncertainty as everyone else.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has been calling for governments to begin regulating AI, but just this week, he suggested that the company might pull out of the European Union entirely if the regulations were too onerous. Specifically, Altman worries that attempts to narrow what kinds of data can be used to train AI systems – specifically blocking copyrighted material – might well prove impossible. “If we can comply, we will, and if we can’t, we’ll cease operating,” Altman told Time. “We will try, but there are technical limits to what’s possible.” (Altman has already started walking this threat back, suggesting he has no immediate plans to exit the EU.)

In the US, The White House has been working on a “Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights,” but it’s non-binding, just a collection of largely vague suggestions. It’s one thing to agree “consumers shouldn’t face discrimination from an algorithm” and “everyone should be protected from abusive data practices and have agency over how their data is used.” But enforcement is an entirely different animal. A lot of these issues already exist in tech, and are much larger than AI, and the US government already doesn’t do much about them.

Additionally, it’s possible AI regulations won’t work well at all if they aren’t global. Even if you set some policies and get an entire nation’s government to agree, how to set similar worldwide protocols? What if US and Europe agree but India doesn’t? Everyone around the world accesses roughly the same internet, so without any kind of international standard, it’s going to be much harder for individual nations to enforce specific rules. As with so many other AI developments, there’s inherent danger in patchwork regulations; it could allow some companies, or regions, or players to move forward while others are unfairly or ineffectively stymied or held back.

The same kinds of socio-economic concerns around AI that we have nationally – some sectors of the work force left behind, the wealthiest and most established players coming in to the new market with massive advantages, the rapid spread of misinformation – are all, in actuality, global concerns. Just as the hegemony of Microsoft and Google threaten the ability of new players to enter the AI space, the West’s early dominance of AI tech threatens to push out companies and innovations from emerging markets like Southeast Asia, Subsaharan Africa, and Central America. Left unfettered, AI could potentially deepen social, economic, and digital divisions both within and between all of these societies.

Undaunted, some governments aren’t waiting around for these tools to develop any further before they start attempting to regulate them. New York City has already set up some rules about how AI can be used during the hiring process while will take effect in July. The law requires any company using AI software in hiring to notify candidates that it’s being used, and to have independent auditors check the system annually for bias.

This sort of piecemeal figure-it-out-as-we-go approach is probably what’s going to be necessary, at least short-term, as AI development shows zero signs of slowing down or stopping any time soon. Though there’s some disagreement among experts, most analysts agree with Wharton professor and economist Jeremy Siegel, who told CNBC this week that AI is not yet a bubble. He pointed to the Nvidia earnings as a sign the market remains healthy and not overly frothy. So, at least for now, the feverish excitement around AI is not going to burst like a late ‘90s startup stock. The world needs to prepare as if this technology is going to be with us for a while.

What the Future of Rivian Looks Like According to CEO RJ Scaringe

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

What the Future of Rivian Looks Like According to CEO RJ Scaringe

Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe took to Instagram last weekend to answer questions from the public about his company and its future. Topics covered included new colors, sustainability, production ramp, new products and features. Speaking of which, viewers also got a first look at the company’s much-anticipated R2 platform, albeit made of clay and covered by a sheet, but hey, that’s…something. If you don’t want to watch the whole 33 minute video, which is now also on Youtube, we’ve got the highlights for you.

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