The Associated Press just made the announcement many football fans have been waiting to hear for years. NFL games – ALL NFL games – will be streamed live this season. That cheer you just heard was millions of fans who had to move out of their home markets exulting that they will actually be able to watch Their Team again.
Not so fast. See, while the games will be streaming, that doesn’t mean they will be easy to actually watch. Viewers will have to seek them out, and most will still need a cable or satellite contract to actually tune in. So, you will be able to watch your game…you will just have to pay for the privilege.
All NFL Sunday games on CBS, Fox, and NBC will require a cable or satellite account in order to stream live. A handful of CBS games “might” be streamed for free like they did last season, but no guarantees.
From there it gets complicated thanks to concurrent and sometimes conflicting contracts between networks and internet sites like Twitter or services such as Verizon. Then add another level of complexity via “box” connections like Playstation, Sling TV or Roku, as well as different sets of parameters governing DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket.
The NFL and its content networks are trying to figure out a way to both make money and give the customer what it wants, which is freedom to stream NFL games live. There’s no doubt this is a work in progress, and it will take a few more seasons on the easel before the drawing board will look anything like a finished product.
At this point, live sports is one of a decreasing number of reasons cable as a medium is holding out at all. One of the others, TV news, is on the trajectory to becoming primarily a web or social media-based consumer product. People still tune in but more and more are getting their news from the ‘net first, foremost, and only. Meanwhile, TV networks in every format struggle to find that happy spot between increasing their relevance in the new digital media while not losing market share on the TV side. It’s a tough dance to step out, and getting tougher every day.
Given the massive TV contracts involved, live pro sports, as well as college football, will likely be the deciding factor on when entertainment makes the transition from TV to mobile or net-driven media. When that happens and what it will look like as a business model we haven’t seen yet … but it’s getting closer.
Jay Sekulow is the Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law & Justice.