July 17, 2024
NFL games are shifting away from traditional TV. Are you ready to stream some football?
The NFL season, which kicks off Thursday, will see more games exclusively on streaming services as media companies invest more outside of traditional TV.

DETROIT, MI – SEPTEMBER 29: Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) runs with the ball during a regular season game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Detroit Lions on September 29, 2019 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire | Icon Sportswire | Getty Images

On any given Sunday, there will be more National Football League games available on streaming services than ever before — some even exclusively.

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

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

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

Streaming may also play a bigger role in NFL viewership as Disney’s networks have gone dark for customers of cable-TV provider Charter Communications, which could coax football fans to opt for internet TV bundles such as Fubo.

When media giants signed NFL media rights deals in 2021, valued at more than $100 billion, more of those deals included the rights to streaming games. Plus, in this past year, the NFL sold the media rights to its “Sunday Ticket” to Google‘s YouTube TV for about $2 billion annually, shifting access to the package of out-of-market games to a streaming-only audience.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had pushed for a streaming-only home for “Sunday Ticket,” saying in the months ahead of closing the deal that he thought it was “best for consumers at this stage.”

Who’s streaming the NFL?

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

“I don’t think simulcasts had a material impact on streaming services, which is why they’re pushing so much more exclusively to these platforms,” 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 started simultaneously airing “Sunday Night Football” on NBC and Peacock. Its first-ever regular season game on Peacock happens late in the season in December when the Buffalo Bills take on the Los Angeles Chargers.

The first-ever NFL wild card playoff game to be solely streamed occurs shortly after that on Jan. 13 on Peacock.

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

The NFL has been a vehicle for attracting more Peacock subscribers, Comcast executives have said on recent investor calls. Peacock had 24 million subscribers as of June 30.

The Kansas City Chiefs’ Skyy Moore celebrates scoring a touchdown, Feb. 12, 2023.

Brian Snyder | Reuters

“Sunday Night Football,” the top-rated prime-time show on TV, averaged nearly 20 million viewers last year, and its Peacock audience has been slowly growing in the single-digit percentage range.

Paramount+ also airs games on both broadcast network CBS and its Paramount+ platform, although it doesn’t have any exclusive offerings. Fox Corp., which also owns the rights to Sunday NFL games, doesn’t stream games other than through its authenticated app, which requires a pay-TV subscription.

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

Other than this, games that exclusively air on Disney’s broadcast network ABC 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 opt into streaming services to watch “Monday Night Football” this season depending on how long the carriage blackout between cable company Charter and Disney drags on. Disney alerted Charter customers they can subscribe to internet TV bundles such as its Hulu + Live TV.

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

Amazon’s inaugural “Thursday Night Football” game last season attracted more than 13 million viewers, the most streamed game ever, according to Nielsen. During that same game, Amazon saw a record amount of Prime signups during a three hour period during its debut game.

On top of this, 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 own NFL+ will also become a beefed up offering this year, offering access to the 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 will not care enough to dig into their wallet for a subscription, or they will sign up for a free trial subscription and cancel after the games, or they will pirate the game.”

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