NFL Heads Into Lab: Sunday Night Football Games To Be Streamed

The NFL has convinced its Sunday Night Football partner, NBC, to get involved in what it calls an "experiment."

Dark-lit laboratories, bubbling liquids over Bunsen burners, the weird-looking scientists with slightly deformed postures (are these the NFL media executives?), and strange looking machinery.

The NFL's experiment is that it wants to stream its ad-supported Sunday night football games free over the Internet at the same time it airs the games on NBC.  It's an experiment because the league's chief worry is cannibalization: Will NBC lose viewers at the expense of new Internet platform?

But there's a bigger question -- whether NBC, and its affiliates, get a cut of the new advertising dollars on the Internet? And, if so, how much? NBC's contract with the NFL - as well as the NFL's other TV partners, CBS, Fox, DirecTV, and ESPN - have the same deal in that it gets to air the football games  "exclusively."



The NFL believes hungrier football fan craves statistics, interactivity, multi-screen, and multi-camera angle technology. TV sports advertisers will then get a different and perhaps more valuable consumer to target.

This is about how to peel away a few more sports marketing dollars from hungry TV sports advertisers, without hurting the less-hungry traditional TV advertisers, looking for more casual football viewers.

CBS' NCAA Basketball tournament already streams games on the Internet - with little effect on the traditional TV broadcast. The worry for the NFL is that is can't make too many mistakes, since teams play way fewer games in a season, versus baseball, basketball, or hockey.

For the most part, old TV programming partners become new Internet programming partners -- at least for the short term. That's because football is still valuable to local TV stations in selling to advertisers, and for national marketers as well. Despite the rush and the glee of the Internet, the vast bulk of advertising dollars still come from traditional TV. You don't want to put a crimp into that business.

The NFL is betting what almost every TV programmer has discovered so far - except for maybe the CW with "Gossip Girl" --- that extra viewing via the Internet means little feasting on traditional TV viewing.

The NFL has had consistently high regular season viewing, with last year's Super Bowl the most viewed event of all time. If anything, all this activity whips up the marketing pace for traditional TV viewing.

All this is another selling tool for the biggest, and most powerful professional sports league. It should have no worries this experiment will create an ugly monster looking to destroy the laboratory.

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