Football, the NFL is shifting towards live broadcasting, away from regular TV

  • The NFL season begins Thursday with the Kansas City Chiefs playing the Detroit Lions.
  • More football matches will be broadcast exclusively on services like ESPN+ this year than ever before.
  • Media companies offer more exclusive content in hopes of attracting long-term customers.

Aaron Rodgers, #8 of the New York Jets, warms up before the game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, August 26, 2023.

Mike Staub | Getty Images

On any given Sunday, there will be more NFL games available on streaming services than ever before – and some of them are exclusives.

The NFL season kicks off Thursday with the Super Bowl champions Kansas City Chiefs hosting the Detroit Lions. Since the season opener is considered “Sunday Night Football” on the schedule, NBCUniversal will broadcast the game on both broadcast network and streaming app Peacock.

This more aggressive shift toward streaming comes after several seasons of companies like Paramount Global, Comcast’s NBCUniversal and Disney’s ESPN showing games simultaneously on streaming services and traditional TV. Now, media companies are augmenting their streaming platforms with more exclusive content in hopes of not only scoring more subscribers, but also making them long-term customers.

Later this season, Peacock, along with Disney’s ESPN+ and Amazon, will have stream-only games. Google’s YouTube TV and NFL streaming service will also become bigger players in the streaming game.

Broadcasting may also play a bigger role in NFL viewership, as Disney Networks is becoming dim for customers of cable TV provider Charter Communications, which could convince football fans to opt for Internet TV packages like Fubo.

When the media giants signed NFL media rights deals in 2021, valued at more than $100 billion, more of those deals involved rights to broadcast games. Additionally, last year, the NFL sold the media rights to “Sunday Ticket” to Google’s YouTube TV for about $2 billion a year, diverting access to the out-of-market game package to a live-only audience.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had pushed for a streaming-only home for Sunday Ticket, saying in the months leading up to the deal closing that he believed it was “best for consumers at this point.”

More and more NFL games are being offered by streaming services in addition to broadcast and pay-TV houses, but this season will see more games available exclusively outside of the traditional TV ecosystem.

“I don’t think simulcasting has had a material impact on streaming services, which is why they’re putting more pressure on these platforms exclusively,” said Daniel Cohen, executive vice president of global media rights consulting at Octagon.

Two exclusive games will air on NBCUniversal’s Peacock this season. NBCUniversal earlier began simulcasting “Sunday Night Football” on NBC and Peacock. Peacock’s first regular season game occurs late in the season in December when the Buffalo Bills take on the Los Angeles Chargers.

The first-ever broadcast-only NFL Wild Card playoff game will happen shortly after on January 13 at Peacock.

“Expanding digital distribution of NFL content while maintaining wide scale for our games remains a key priority for the league, and bringing the excitement of an NFL playoff game exclusively to Peacock’s live streaming platform is the next step in that strategy.” Hans Schroeder, executive vice president and chief operating officer of NFL Media, said in a statement released earlier this year.

The NFL was a way to get more Peacock subscribers, Comcast executives said on recent investor calls. Peacock had 24 million subscribers as of June 30th.

Sky Moore, of the Kansas City Chiefs, celebrates scoring a touchdown goal, on February 12, 2023.

Brian Snyder | Reuters

“Sunday Night Football,” the highest-rated prime-time program on television, averaged close to 20 million viewers last year, and Peacock’s audience has been slowly growing in the single-digit percentage range.

Paramount+ also streams games on both the CBS broadcast network and its Paramount+ platform, although it does not contain any exclusives. Fox Corp., which also owns the rights to Sunday NFL games, streams games only through its authorized app, which requires a pay-TV subscription.

Disney, which owns the rights to “Monday Night Football,” will broadcast an NFL international game exclusively on its ESPN+ platform for the second time since last season.

Otherwise, games that air exclusively on Disney’s ABC broadcast network will also be on ESPN+, as well as some “Monday Night Football” games that air on ESPN. ESPN+ had 25.2 million subscribers as of July 1.

More people may choose to sign up for streaming services to watch “Monday Night Football” this season depending on how long the outage between cable company Charter and Disney lasts. Disney has alerted Charter customers to the possibility of subscribing to Internet TV packages such as Hulu + Live TV.

Meanwhile, Amazon Prime Video, which is entering its second season as home to “Thursday Night Football,” will exclusively air the first-ever Black Friday game after Thanksgiving this year, which will see the New York Jets host the Miami Dolphins.

Last season, Amazon’s inaugural “Thursday Night Football” drew more than 13 million viewers, the most-streamed game of all time, according to Nielsen. During that same game, Amazon saw a record number of Prime sign-ups in the three-hour period during its first game.

What’s more, those who want to watch out-of-market games on “Sunday Ticket” will have to subscribe to YouTube TV, shifting the package away from satellite TV provider DirecTV for the first time ever.

The league’s NFL+ will also become an enhanced offering this year, providing access to NFL Network and NFL RedZone channels.

But will these exclusive games be enough to move the needle? It depends, Cohen said.

“One of three things will happen,” Cohen said. “Fans won’t care enough to dig into their wallet to get a subscription, or they’ll sign up for a free trial and cancel after games, or they’ll pirate the game.”

Disclosure: Comcast owns NBCUniversal, the parent company of CNBC.

(tags for translation) NFL Football

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