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Streaming Is Way Up For NFL This Season


With more ways for fans to stream NFL games, this season viewership via digital is up a striking 65% from a year ago, the league is reporting. 

Through four weeks of the season, the average game minute has been seen by 326,000  viewers per game window across the various platforms on which the NFL now makes games available.

Those big numbers seem startling, especially because the recent headlines have shown NFL TV viewership in decline. Was it the National Anthem controversy? Too many concussions? Too many thugs? Too many ads?

Maybe it was just shifting fan viewing habits? 

The new online numbers suggest that younger, or at least more digitally adept viewers, may be turning away from TV and toward online viewing.  Compared to last year, streaming on phones is up an astounding 147%. Streaming via TV devices -- where there are more restrictions -- is up 54%.

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On an NFL blog,  Kevin LaForce, the league’s  senior vice president for media strategy and business development, says, "There are younger people who have grown up with digital devices. They reach for digital first. This helps connect us with them."

The NFL has always built its power by offering lots of games on the most widely available medium: television. While that is unlikely to change, the league seems intent on driving fans to digital, too, no longer seeing it as a kind of add-on to core broadcasts that now show up on any given Sunday, Monday and Thursday at the very least. 

This season, Sunday afternoon local games and all prime-time contests can be seen on the NFL.com app or Verizon-owned properties like Yahoo Sports. The broadcast networks have also made it easier to stream games via their authenticated channels. 

But as fans know, there are weird exceptions often harder to figure than new NFL officiating rules: You may be able to watch a game on your cell phone or iPad, but not stream it to your TV. And the availability of games online is dictated by which games your local TV station is airing. If you’re an Indianapolis Colts fan, for example, you probably can’t watch them on your phone in Seattle. 

Still, options are better than they used to be. "If fans know they can easily access our games on all of their devices, I think we're going to see continued growth at a nice pace," LaForce says on the blog. 

Increased viewership does seem to be catching on. TV ratings are also up, 3% through the first four weeks of the season, quite a turnaround from 2017, when regular-season ratings were down 9% versus the previous season to average 14.9 million viewers.  

 "That is a core [tenet] of our media philosophy for decades. We still believe in the value of games on live TV,” LaForce says. 

Breitbart News, the right-wing website, reports network executives say that among many reasons for the rise in ratings, the lack of protests is helping.

“While the executives don’t attribute the entire reason for the ratings improvement to the relative absence of protests,” the site suggests, “the fact that they mention it at all is an important development.”

5 comments about "Streaming Is Way Up For NFL This Season".
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  1. Tom Gray from WCMH, October 10, 2018 at 3:50 p.m.

    The huge increase has nothing to do with any lack of protests, it was solely their deal with Verison and streaming policy.  This is the first year the NFL made all local and prime games available to stream online and on mobile devices. In past years, it was limited to verizon customers only and was impossible to navigate.  Otherwise, you could only stream games on your desktop, thus limiting the availability substantially.  It was pretty predictable that their streaming numbers would increase dramatically with the new changes. 

  2. pj bednarski from MediaPost.com, October 10, 2018 at 4:10 p.m.

    I agree, Tom, and I think my story reflects that point. I used the Breitbart comment only to show that regardles of less combustible things called "facts," some news sources continue to make the NFL's ratings a political issue. 

  3. Bill McClain from Bill McClain Brand Builder, October 11, 2018 at 8:43 p.m.

    Not sure I understand why a legitimate journalistic site like MediaPost would amplify a fringe propaganda site like Breitbart...

  4. pj bednarski from MediaPost.com, October 12, 2018 at 10:29 a.m.

    Maybe I'm the only one who thought the Breitbart passage was telling for its desperation-- that even the fact the executives mention the protests was an "important developlent." I apologize to any readers who thought I contributed to giving the Breitbart outfit any legitimacy as a news site.

  5. pj bednarski from MediaPost.com, October 12, 2018 at 10:29 a.m.

    Maybe I'm the only one who thought the Breitbart passage was telling for its desperation-- that even the fact the executives mention the protests was an "important developlent." I apologize to any readers who thought I contributed to giving the Breitbart outfit any legitimacy as a news site.

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