What the NFL’s latest rights deals signal for the future of TV and streaming
By Tim Peterson
For the past several years, the National Football League’s next round of broadcast rights deals were seen as the likely tipping point for streaming to overtake TV.
But now that those deals have been announced, they underscore an oxymoronic moment: streaming is overtaking TV, but also that TV is overtaking streaming. “It’s less a revolution than an evolution,” said Patrick Crakes, a former Fox Sports executive and principal of Crakes Media Consulting
The major TV network groups, including Disney, Fox, NBCUniversal and ViacomCBS, retained their rights to air NFL games on their TV networks on March 18. But the 11-year deals also enable the companies to distribute more games on their streaming services to people who do not have traditional TV. And whereas the potential loomed for a tech giant to swoop in and steal rights away from the traditional media companies, in the end only the NFL’s Thursday Night Football package went to Amazon, albeit on an exclusive basis aside from the local TV broadcasts.
As a result, the NFL’s latest rights deals do not appear to represent a watershed moment for the convergence of traditional TV and streaming. But they are — or, at the least, they have the potential be. “To me when all of these games are available to stream and you don’t need a pay-television subscription, that’s when things change tremendously,” said John Kosner, a former ESPN executive and president of Kosner Media.
That moment may not be much farther off. Starting this year, NBCUniversal and ViacomCBS will have the rights to stream their NFL games on Peacock and Paramount+, respectively. Additionally, Disney will air one game exclusively on ESPN+ in 2022 and has the rights to air all of its NFL games on the subscription-based streamer starting in 2023. Fox appears to be the only one of the TV networks not to acquire rights to make games available to streaming-only audiences, though it will air condensed games on its free, ad-supported streamer Tubi. That the networks have acquired these streaming rights puts them in position to retain their positions in the broader TV market as it shifts to streaming.
“It’s very hard to see that the future of any digital distribution won’t be owned by the same established media companies that owned the old” distribution model, Crakes said.
However, while the networks have the rights to stream games to cord cutters, only NBCUniversal has been explicit about actually doing so. Disney and ViacomCBS said they have the opportunity to do so but not that they, in fact, will as soon as they have the option. That leaves open the possibility that the companies could choose to keep their NFL games limited to traditional TV viewers. That would be an odd move considering the networks are reportedly paying more than $2 billion per year — $2.7 billion in Disney’s case — for their NFL rights, per CNBC. But it’s because the networks are paying so much that they may be wary of making the games accessible to …read more