Earlier this week, the National Football League announced it reached a deal with CBS and NBC to provide both networks with five games each from its Thursday Night Football package. Another eight games will be aired exclusively on NFL Network. Overall, the NFL will get a combined $450 million for giving up ten games to outside parties. But the league isn’t done cashing in on Thursday Night Football’s success in the 2014 and 2015 season. Thursday Night Football averaged over 16 million viewers per game on CBS while NFL Network-only games enjoyed a weekly average only a few million less. So why not try to get another partner and add even more money to the lucrative sport? When Monday’s deal with CBS and NBC was made, the NFL stated it was engaged in “active discussions with prospective digital partners.”
The NFL is shopping exclusive streaming rights to the Thursday Night Football package to the largest technology firms around. Variety is reporting Google, Apple, Amazon, and Verizon are all among those seeking to make a bid and score the most valuable content in the United States.
Scenarios for each of the aforementioned companies are simple to see.
Google would, without question, use YouTube to stream the games live to people around the world. YouTube has experience in showing major events live; therefore, Google wouldn’t need to the service’s infrastructure and the NFL could breathe easy about YouTube being slammed with a large influx of viewers. What’s likely more important to the NFL is choosing a partner open to supporting as many platforms as possible. And that’s exactly what YouTube offers. Also, Google has the added bonus of having devices to really push streaming Thursday Night Football on phones, tablets, and Chromecast-connected displays.
Another possibility for putting the games on YouTube would be for Google to push YouTube Red, the monthly subscription that removes advertisements and unlocks original programming.
Apple is probably the most confusing potential bidder because of its lack of multi-platform support. The company generally sticks to keeping its services solely on its own hardware, meaning people without an Apple device would be kept from watching Thursday Night Football unless they sat down in front of a television. Plus, Apple doesn’t have a proven track record in video streaming (live or pre-recorded) outside of the annual Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). The NFL wants an experienced partner and Apple wouldn’t be one.
Amazon’s situation doesn’t make it a very appealing partner, but it’s one that’s much better than Apple’s. Amazon actually has a video streaming service but never put up any live content to test strength. But, if Jeff Bezos opens his wallet and shells out big bucks for Thursday Night Football, Amazon could get new eyeballs on Prime Video and grow Prime memberships with ease.
Thursday Night Football would likely fare best (assuming Google and YouTube do something wrong) by having Verizon carry the games. The carrier already streams each and every game of the regular season live and on-demand on an exclusive basis, which should give the league a jump in confidence when reviewing Verizon’s bid. Here though, the games wouldn’t be shown to just Verizon customers. Go90, the video streaming service targeted at millennials, would be the place for Verizon to stream the games.
Go90, while not profitable at this time, already hosts content from the NBA and Verizon adding in NFL content in the form of live games would be huge. Millions of people would be forced to turn to Go90 to watch games, and Verizon could then push the service’s other content. Advertisers’ would be salivating after seeing Go90 cater to elusive millennials and stream NFL games.
What every interested company should be aware of, and I’m sure they are, is the flop that occurred when Yahoo streamed a London game on October 25. Yahoo paid $20 million for a game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills. Despite those teams being perennial underwhelming teams, Yahoo couldn’t put up a seamless stream. Viewers endured buffering and stuttering issues.
Yahoo averaged just 2.36 million viewers at any given time during the game’s broadcast.
The games, which might include the handful of London-based showdowns, could even end up being distributed by multiple companies if the league wants to ensure fans aren’t limited in accessing Thursday Night Football away from a television. Giving more than of the interested companies non-exclusive streaming rights would practically guarantee fans could watch Thursday Night Football games from anywhere.
Google, Apple, Amazon, and Verizon all have billions to spend. It comes down to whether or not they think enough people will stream Thursday Night Football games to generate advertising revenue surprising the expense to win those streaming rights. That’s why streaming Thursday Night Football games simultaneously on multiple services could be the best case scenario for the NFL and the potential bidders.