The NFL is taking bids for their Thursday Night Football package, and has sent formal request for proposal invitations to all the networks. That’s nothing new, it happens every year. It seems that the NFL doesn’t want to think beyond that. But, what’s really interesting is, that included in the list of parties getting invitations, are streaming companies like Apple, Google (presumably through YouTube Live), and Amazon. Is the NFL getting ready to cut the cable? Well, yes and no.
“The league last week sent formal RFPs to the usual TV partners and outlets — CBS, ESPN, Fox, NBC and Turner — that outlined the NFL’s plan to sell a one-year deal with a league option for a second year. The league also sent RFPs to several digital companies, like Google, Yahoo, Apple and Amazon, to stream the entire Thursday night schedule on a non-exclusive basis. The league’s initial plan would have the digital streams serve as a simulcast of the television production — with the same ads and in-game production features.” – Sports Business Daily
The decision to live stream the Thursday Night Football package is the next step in the NFLs gradual move to streaming their games. First it was the Super Bowl. Then came the entire playoffs in 2013, followed by streaming the preseason and even one of this season’s London games. Now they want to expand to all 16 games of the Thursday Night schedule. And it’s clear that they see streaming as a companion to broadcast, not a competitor.
So the idea here, is for streaming portals to act as a kind of second screen experience, or simulcast to run in concert with the main broadcast production. In short, the NFL wants their cake and eat it too, and they will most likely get it, too. It’s not the first time we’ve seen a simulcast online. NBC has done it for a few years with Sunday Night Football, and users used to be able to choose their own camera angles to watch, but that was a bit too complicated for an app and never really lived up to the promise
ESPN also does it, with Monday Night Football, but the problem there is, that like NBC Sports Live, users must have a subscription to cable or satellite to get past the gate keepers. The point was, users could enjoy the game in their living rooms, and then go deeper with additional streaming options from their tablet or smart phone with a simulcast.
“We are talking to numerous people — both traditional media companies and some of the Internet guys — and I think there will be a heavy digital component [for Thursday]. It is just a question of what the model will be and how we will do it.” – NFL Network CEO Brian Rolapp
Wwith Apple’s new focus on apps as the future of television, rather than trying to create yet another crowded streaming service, it would seem that Cupertino would be well positioned to get an NFL Live streaming app onto the Apple TV for Thursday Night Football. Or an app for any of the broadcasters who would seek to win the Thursday Night package.
Frankly, since the NFL is planning on streaming Thursday Night Football on a non-exclusive basis, why not use the shotgun approach and just let all platforms stream the games? At least through the app-centric ones. Roku, Google Chromecast, Apple TV, Amazon Fire, all of these could stream from an NFL live app in the same fashion.
Yahoo does have the advantage though, even after they’ve decided to to scuttle their original programming initiative; the web portal paid the NFL $15 million to stream one game exclusively this year. That experiment gives them the infrastructure and experience, as well as the fact that the opportunity to stream live football could be a chance to reboot and go back to their roots.
If you recall, it was billionaire Mark Cuban who first created the Broadcast.com streaming network and sold it to Yahoo. So why not go back and resurrect that brand and launch it with the NFL Network Thursday Night Football Package? Then again, why not just expand NFL Sunday Ticket? Users can already buy a separate streaming subscription, and the vast infrastructure is already there.
No matter who gets the deal, they’ll have to lay out at least $300 million, as the NFL RFPs state that is the minimum bid, since CBS paid that last time around. Whoever wins the bid, however, will have a single year to prove they are worthy of the additional one year extension.
One thing is abundantly clear, though… The NFL is ready to take the next step in streaming live football.