from the b-as-in-billion dept
While denialism over cord-cutting is still somewhat a thing, a vastly larger segment of the public can finally see the writing on the wall. While the cable industry’s first brave tactic in dealing with the cord-cutting issue was to boldly pretend as though it didn’t exist, industry executives more recently realize that there is a bloodbath coming its way. There are few roadblocks that remain for a full on tsunami of cord-cutters and one of the most significant of those is still live sports broadcasting. This, of course, is something I’ve been screaming about on this site for years: the moment that people don’t need to rely on cable television to follow their favorite sports teams live, cable will lose an insane number of subscribers.
Over the past few years, the major American sports leagues have certainly inched in that direction. Notable for this post, 2017 saw the NFL ink a new streaming deal for mobile streaming with Verizon. The NFL had a long partnership with Verizon for mobile streaming already, but the notable aspect of the new deal was that NFL game streaming was suddenly not exclusive. Other streaming services could get in the game. And, while you can’t draw a direct line to it, the tangential story of how the NFL just inked an exclusive deal with Amazon Prime for the broadcast rights for Thursday Night Football certainly shows you where this is all heading.
The deal runs from 2023 to 2033 and, according to a report from CNBC, will see Amazon pay $1 billion per year for the TNF package. Thursday Night Football is the NFL’s newest and cheapest TV package, but the deal lets Amazon creep closer to parity with the NFL’s other licensees, mainstream TV networks like Fox Sports, ABC/ESPN (Disney), CBS (Viacom), and NBC (Comcast). CNBC’s report has the other four channels paying upward of $2 billion per year each, and unlike Amazon, the TV networks get to take turns airing the Super Bowl.
The exclusivity for Amazon seems like a mistake for the NFL, which really should want its product viewed in as many places as possible. On the other hand: 1 billion dollars a year. The Thursday lineups are typically one or two games each Thursday, far less than the deals for Sunday games. It’s an incredible amount of money to pay just so Amazon can exclusively show the NFL’s worst games of the week. But it also shows not only that Amazon understands the power and draw of live sports like this, but also that the NFL understands the power and draw of streaming services.
Building on that point, the NFL is also loosening up what its other broadcast partners can do in terms of streaming games.
The NFL’s new deal contains streaming provisions for the other providers, too. Each network can now simulcast their games on their streaming service, and some deals scored one or two streaming-exclusive games. Disney’s ABC and ESPN games are also allowed on ESPN+, and ESPN+ will get one exclusive game per season, the London “International Series” game. NBC games can also appear on the streaming service Peacock, and Peacock is getting “an exclusive feed of a select number of NFL games.” CBS can stream games on Paramount+. Fox Sports, which wasn’t part of Disney’s acquisition of Fox, apparently has a streaming service called “Tubi,” which can now simulcast the Fox games.
All of which is to say that the NFL is widely opening up its games to be streamed in more and more places. This shouldn’t come as the world’s biggest surprise, frankly. The NFL is a money-making operation and it does its marketing and promotional work better than most leagues. The very smart people handling broadcast contracts for the league certainly can see where the future in broadcasting games is and it sure looks like they are only going further and further into streaming.
If pro sports leagues follow suit, the end of cable television as we know it is nigh.