Commentary

The Stream Of Possible NFL Streaming Partners

It’s pro football’s off-season, that time of the year that media companies busily look for ways to give the NFL more money.

Right now, apparently, that deep thinking is going on with digital players that want to buy the rights to stream 18 Thursday games this season. According to reports, the players include Facebook, Amazon, Verizon and Yahoo.

The surprise non-bidder is Apple, which announced an upgrade of its AppleTV in September.

If you ask, “Siri, find me the most disappointing Apple product announcement ever,” she takes you directly to that one. Many believed AppleTV would be a player in the streaming NFL sweepstakes just to have a value-added feature but, Re/Code says it has” determined that this package isn’t enough” to  lure new customers or fawning journalists.

The NFL is very healthy. You should be so healthy. But there are concerns for media companies chasing attractive audiences. NFL viewership has been flat or barely up for awhile. There is anecdotal evidence many younger viewers don’t want to watch entire football games, or watch old guys talk about them--that’s Whistle Sports’ contention.

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There’s one study that says “61% of millennials identified the NFL as a sleazy organization, 67% don’t trust NFL players and 54% of all respondents believe that the NFL is anti-gay,” reports MillennialMarketing.com. So, it argues, the NFL is losing that trusty-brand status millennials want. They want sensitive linebackers. Gees. Block that kick!

The package doesn't seem all that great. I'm apparently wrong. Even though these streaming games would be duplicating telecasts on either CBS or NBC (and on NFL Channel itself), the combatants see gold there. The streaming negotiations could raise eyebrows, a little or a lot.

It is hard to believe that Yahoo, which should be mulling changing its official name to Beleaguered Yahoo, would like to plunk down major millions of dollars for the rights. Its $20 million investment in the 2015 NFL stream was not a money maker.

Bidding on the NFL would be the craziest thing it could do,  which in the old days would have been enough justification for Marissa Mayer.

Verizon already has streaming rights and while it is busy empire-building in the online space, it is essentially an expansion team. The NFL only pretends expansion teams are competitive.

Facebook seems quite tempting. It’s not at all a hard sell to fans and it would come with built-in involvement possibilities,  and engagement means money.  But the NFL probably wants its games to be seen on connected TVs and Facebook simply isn’t there. It could be. But it isn’t.

Finally, if the Re/Code list is accurate, there’s Amazon, a huge retailer that can sell a prodigious number of jerseys and emblem-emblazoned coffee mugs (with free shipping!) while presenting its streams of games.

What’s more, for Amazon, the NFL gamecasts would be a perfect way to create an ad platform to tip-toe into subscription/ad supported fare--the holy dual revenue stream--that would also make it easier for Jeff Bezos to pay for it. For the world-domination addled NFL, a plus is that Amazon Instant Video is already in the United Kingdom and Germany.

For all of those tantalizing possibilities, who knows?

Netflix is said to be uninterested. But what about CBS?

Les Moonves says he wants to arrange streaming rights for the games CBS already shows on-air, but buying a new package, just for the CBS All Access service, could be a shrewd move to build that brand. 

By the time the NFL owners later this month, it expects to be able to announce the winning streaming bid. Get those Brinks trucks ready.

pj@mediapost.com

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