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LaVar Ball seems destined for reality TV, so why is his reality show headed to Facebook?

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA JULY 7, 2017-LaVar Ball greets fans during halftime at the NBA Summer League at th
LaVar Ball greets fans at the NBA Summer League at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas in July.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

LaVar Ball, the loquacious alpha dad of three basketball prodigies, sets his expectations high when it comes to his sons. It’s the NBA or bust.

But when it came to choosing where to broadcast his family’s inevitable reality series, Ball was willing to look past the established giants of the medium, whether a cable channel like MTV or E! or a network like ABC.

Starting Thursday, a show that some are already likening to the Kardashians, but for basketball, is set to air on Facebook Watch, the world’s largest social network’s new original content platform.

“Ball in the Family” captures the journey of Lonzo Ball in his rookie season with the Lakers, LiAngelo Ball in his freshman year as a shooting guard with UCLA, and LaMelo Ball as he attempts to lead his Chino Hills High School team to a championship.

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Their story lines are tied together by the outsized presence of LaVar Ball, who wills the clan forward, all while helping the family matriarch, Tina Ball, recover from a stroke.

“Ball in the Family” is one of a handful of new long-form shows set to appear on Facebook Watch, a service that aims to deliver premium advertising dollars at a time when rivals Apple and YouTube are all investing in original content to compete with TV.

So far, none have produced any runaway hits. Apple’s early foray, “Planet of the Apps,” has been met with mixed reviews.

The hope is LaVar Ball’s sometimes outlandish behavior and compelling family members will attract a big following. The program was developed by Glendale-based Bunim-Murray Productions, pioneers in reality television, including “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” “Project Runway” and “Real World.”

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BMP executives say they were approached by Facebook, to make the series, which will run 10 episodes, each lasting around 20 minutes.

Though Facebook is paying for the show’s production, the tech giant and BMP declined to say how much the series cost.

Facebook is reportedly paying up to $250,000 for longer form shows, which it will own like Netflix and Amazon does with their original content. Shorter shows will receive $10,000 or more, but can share advertising revenue.

While Facebook Watch’s success is anything but assured, Gil Goldschein, BMP’s chief executive and chairman, said his company was drawn to the project because it was an opportunity to do something innovative.

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“This has a chance to resonate with a large community of people sharing and talking online,” he said. “We hope it becomes a similar franchise to the other shows we’ve built and franchised season after season.”

Moreover, Facebook’s data will give BMP a way to track viewership differently from the Nielsen ratings the company has long relied upon. Fans may even influence the direction of the show if they indicate what they enjoy watching most, BMP executives said.

With Nielsen, “you don’t have a sense of who’s watching the show,” said Julie Pizzi, BMP’s co-president of entertainment and development. “You have to go online to get a sense of how viral it really is.”

Facebook Watch is being rolled out to a select few in the U.S. at first. But “Ball in the Family” can be accessed through the show’s Facebook page.

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The service doesn’t feature any big-budget content like Netflix’s “House of Cards” just yet. Instead, Facebook, like Apple, has taken a more modest approach with shorter shows.

Among them, in addition to “Ball in the Family,” are “Returning the Favor,” featuring Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” fame; “It’s Cool, But Does It Really Work?” a show that tests new inventions; and “The Great Cheese Hunt,” which showcases cheeses from around the world.

david.pierson@latimes.com

Follow me @dhpierson on Twitter

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UPDATES:

3:46 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details about Facebook paying for the production of “Ball in the Family.”


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