The NFL just continues to be a juggernaut in the TV world. The 2021 season ended with a Supr Bowl viewed by 150+ people including as many as 10 million streamers. Though 90% of its audience was watching through linear TV methods the NFL knows that streaming is going to be a big part of its future. It just doesn’t know where that future will land. But where ever it does will mean big changes in the TV and streaming landscape. It will be a defining moment for which ever company grabs it.
Why could Apple pull this off? Apple may have a critical darling in Ted Lasso, but the truth is that the Apple TV+ service is lacking in much that will hook viewers. None of its other Apple TV+ originals have merited any real buzz despite its distribution deals with T-Moble and of course tie ins built into the purchase of Apple products. Apple in general has never taken the streaming space by storm despite the fact that it has been in the space since nearly the start of the streaming revolution. Apple TV was one of the first streaming products on the market where it gained popularity as both a way to view Netflix and a popular under-the-radar way to put XBMC on a TV. iTunes was one of the first digital marketplaces for content. But its clumsy rollout of the Apple TV+ ecosystem which came after a rumored failed attempt to build out a live TV service sort of doomed the company while other streaming platforms and apps gained steam. But Apple has a lot of money and its app is on nearly every Smart TV and streaming device. Apple also already has a marketplace built out to handle billing and sales of services. Did we mention that Apple has a lot of money? That means it could afford it. The question is, does it have the infrastructure to handle the demand?
Paramount has not been mentioned much by streaming media types in the conversation about Sunday Ticket. I would really like to know why. Why would Paramount be a logical fit for the service? Well, first of all, because it has a longstanding relationship with the NFL stretching back decades. Understand, now Paramount means CBS and CBS Sports so we know the company has the infrastructure to handle NFL Streaming on a large scale. Heck, Paramount already streams the AFC package on a weekly basis through Paramount+ which already boasts 36 million customers. Apple TV+ would kill to have 36 million customers. The service has even streamed the Super Bowl. It should not be difficult for Paramount executives to build a compelling reason for the NFL to choose a company with advertising partners built-in, a free streaming service like Pluto TV to trumpet the service and a top broadcasting network, and a highly watched NFL broadcast every Sunday to promote it. CBS/Paramount would also not have to build a studio presence from scratch. It amazes me that this has not even been whispered yet.
Why would Amazon get in on Sunday Ticket? Amazon has been building sports into its video app and the interface of the Fire TV OS for some time. And starting next year it will be the exclusive home of Thursday Night Football, which will stream free to its hundred million-plus customers. Thursday Night Football though is hardly the pride of the NFL weekly lineup. Amazon would be able to market Sunday Ticket in a whole other way. It has a live TV tab that could be used to organize all of the games into clickable choices, an app that could be used to market the upcoming game all week the same as it does any other TV show, a format that builds TV-style commercials right into its device home screens and it has over 40 million active users on its streaming platform alone, not counting those who access Amazon content through IMDB TV and the Prime Video App. Amazon would probably not integrate access to the service into its Prime membership without a substantial price hike, but it could technically build it in a part of a higher tier of service. $130.00 for Prime with all the normal bells and whistles including the free shipping, movies, basic Amazon Music etc, and $170.00 a year for the whole shebang with NFL football. I have zero insight as to how pricing could work. I just know this. Jeff Bezos plays with SPACESHIPS in his spare time the way regular folks spend Saturday afternoons changing their own oil to save money. Amazon could actually afford to subsidize the cost of the package for some time as it continues to build up the base for Prime which it would absolutely tie into it all regardless. Why? Because again, Amazon is not a TV app or a video streaming service. It is a store that sells streaming right alongside batteries, dijon mustard, Tide and power drills and what it wants to do over anything else is encourage users to use its services and get used to having their stuff delivered with “free” shipping.
Oh yeah, little old Comcast has a streaming service too. And it owns NBC, and it broadcasts and streams events like the Super Bowl and The Olympics, Sunday Night Football, and Premier League Soccer. Comcast is not afraid to spend money on sports. Not at all. And with an eye towards making Peacock a destination for sports fans there is no good reason to think that it will not enter into negotiations for the biggest sports prize there is. Peacock’s premium tier already includes access to a number of sports but nothing on the scope of Sunday Ticket. Like Amazon, Peacock could make a subscription to Peacock step 1 of getting the NFL package. Pay $4.99 plus whatever they charge for the games package and all of a sudden overnight Peacock has millions of new subscribers to fund more original programming and advertise it during games and anywhere else it chooses. It could build NFL channels into its live channels section and integrate Red Zone into its grid. With platforms from everything to NBC to XUMO, 24-hour cable news and more the company could cross-pollinate the service. Comcast, through NBC also has the TV expertice, big event streaming experience, and relationships with the league to put together something that would make sense to all the parties involved.
This is a possibility that should scare the rest of the streaming marketplace. What if Disney gets the Sunday Ticket? Disney who owns, ABC, ESPN Hulu and Hulu with Live TV would be equal to the task of packaging NFL Sunday Ticket. Do you remember when Disney+ rolled out across all of its platforms at once? You couldn’t watch any of its company-owned services without seeing banners or hearing people talk about it. Imagine the NFL bundled neatly with ESPN+. Imagine Hulu With Live TV as the exclusive streaming home of the NFL Sunday Ticket. Disney could offer it as an addon to its live TV service. $65.00 for live TV and an extra few hundred a year for the entire thing. It could bundle it anyway it wanted. ESPN+Sunday Ticket. But you better believe it would not be totally offered on its own. Because that is obviously not the way Disney does things as evidenced by the Hulu Live TV bundle now including ESPN+ and Disney+.
To say ESPN has a pretty good relationship with the NFL in place would be an understatement. While ABC and ESPN only currently broadcast/stream Monday Night Football it has been an NFL partner for decades. Its Peyton and Eli Manning co-broadcast of games has proven hugely popular. What if the company expanded that and had the brothers or other fun teams of sports every man groups talk about individual games weekly. The company is already looking to expand the model outside of NFL games.
I could see this unfolding a number of ways. An ESPN+ bundle, a Hulu Live TV+NFL bundle, a full monty including Disney+. I know that ESPN has been supposedly anchored with overly expensive sports contracts. But it is undeniable. NFL broadcasts are the top-rated shows weekly. And until now millions of fans have only been able to access out-of-market NFL games if they were also DirecTV customers. If these games are rating gold for traditional broadcasts when users only have one game to choose think of how it will look when anybody can watch any game they want on a service that does not require a satellite dish to be hooked up.
The winner May Consolidate the industry
Whoever puts up the money to stream Sunday Ticket will likely see a monumental increase in attention, subscribers, and clout in the TV industry. In some cases, such a prize might be big enough to shut down competitors in the space. For instance, if you were an NFL super fan why would pay 65.00 for YouTube TV, when you could pay the same to Hulu and then buy the Sunday Ticket as well? Think of the revenue from subscribers and commercials that will flow into the coffers of whoever pulls it off and the amount of future original productions or even money to bid on exclusive content from other companies. Because we know this, there will not be the same group of hundreds and thousands of niche streaming services we see today down the road. While it is easy to point to companies like SeeSo, or Quibi there are lots of other streaming ventures that fall flat every year. If the service lands with Apple, it would transform Apple’s reputation in the streaming world from a glitzy afterthought to a prime player. If it lands at Amazon the rich get richer and so does Amazon’s trove of consumer analytics. If it lands on Peacock you can expect to see a lot more than Saved By The Bell in the future of the service and see it immediately catch up with competitors in a big way. If it lands on Paramount you might see a merger between Peacock and Paramount+.
The end results could be like a earth crust displacement in the TV world.