NFL's Online Streaming: Thinking Cannibalization? Think Again

The NFL would tell you it did pretty well for its first streaming effort on Yahoo, which posted an average viewership of 2.3 million viewers per minute viewed for the Buffalo Bills-Jacksonville Jaguars game in London.

This might not look great compared to traditional TV ratings -- around a Nielsen 13.5 million for ESPN “Monday Night Football” game to a high on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” which can average 23.9 million viewers.

But for the NFL (and for Yahoo) all this is incremental, emboldening the league to pursue more early-morning Sunday games to capture a growing Asian market audience that would see games in prime time.

The NFL has streamed other games on the Internet. But these have been games running concurrently on traditional live TV -- including one featuring the New York Jets-Miami Dolphins earlier this year, played in London, which also ran on CBS.  



And then take the Super Bowl, which has been streaming online for the last three years. This past February, NBC's live streaming of the Super Bowl grabbed 2.5 million unique visitors -- up 9% from Fox’s results a year ago. But, again, these numbers are  just those who sampled the games; average viewers per minute were much lower.

Analysts might look at this and think the Internet still isn’t up to traditional TV performance standards. But it’s not about which platform is bigger. It’s about how much money one company can make from a powerful sports franchise in future years — perhaps games on other than the regular nights, or exclusively on different media platforms, or during different times of the year.

Remember a few years ago when NFL toyed with the idea of adding more games to the regular season schedule, going to 18 games from 16 games?

So you might be asking the obvious question: Will the NFL be subject to some cannibalization?

Not anytime soon. Look at the TV ratings so far this season. TV networks have shown gains, even with the addition of a Thursday night package of games a year ago on CBS and the NFL Network. This is fairly unusual TV viewing growth in an otherwise fractionalized TV ecosystem.

And that is worth something extra for the media --  and marketers.

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