Sports Business Journal's John Ourand broke some interesting news this morning:
The NFL is preparing to negotiate with digital companies (think Google, YouTube or Yahoo) to distribute one 2015 regular-season game via an “over-the-top” webcast.
Goodell surprised media executives during Super Bowl week when he announced plans to stream a game next season over-the-top.
“It would be carried on broadcast stations in both team markets, but it would also reach a worldwide audience, including millions of homes that do not have traditional television service,” Goodell said during his annual state of the league presser.
NFL executives are convinced they will be able to find a willing partner to buy the rights. “It would have to be a partner who would get behind it promotionally and make sure that people are aware that the game’s available and be able to reach a big audience,” said Hans Schroeder, NFL senior vice president of media strategy, business development and sales.
Until the league figures out the digital company with which it will partner, it will wait to decide who will produce the game and handle ad sales.
As for which game gets streamed? The most likely scenario would be one of the three London games on the 2015 schedule, which start at 9:30 a.m. ET. The NFL has not made a final decision, but sources say it is looking closely at the Bills-Jaguars game in London on Oct. 25.
“That 9:30 a.m. time slot is interesting internationally when you start to think of parts of Asia, where it reaches into Sunday night, as well as parts of Europe,” Schroeder said. The one-off, over-the-top game is more of a test to see if digital companies can handle the large audiences that watch NFL games.
“We really want to figure out if the landscape is ready for digital-only distribution of a game,” he said. “A lot of this is trying to anticipate, as the world changes, who our partners are going to be and who may be interested in NFL game rights when we look seven or eight years down the road, or potentially earlier, with ‘Thursday Night Football.’ Is there nontraditional media who would be interested in those games?”How did they choose the Bills/Jaguars game?
As mentioned in the article, the 9:30 a.m. time slot is ideal for international audiences. I also think with CBS already investing so much money in TNF, the NFL didn't mind taking 1 game off of it's hands to do some experimentation. The ability of the NFL to take a game off of CBS's hands might've been written into their recent TNF contract where it says:
"The programming relationship between the NFL and CBS will expand to include, among other elements, the development of new programming initiatives across the various CBS and NFL platforms."
I wouldn't be too surprised if CBS ends up playing a role in this game by helping out with production, promotion and/or letting whoever wins this game borrow some of their talent. I also think CBS doesn't have much to lose by letting the NFL re-sell this game since it's the Bills and Jaguars playing versus a Patriots/Broncos game which are usually ratings monsters.
Don't be surprised if we see more CBS Sunday afternoon games used by the NFL as labs for experimentation with virtual reality, referee cameras, GoPro cameras and other technology which could evolve the way fans watch games.
Who are the contenders?
Google and Yahoo are the contenders being reported but I wouldn't be surprised to see Apple, Netflix, Facebook, Perform Sports EPlayer, Verizon, ESPN, Turner Sports. Google and Yahoo are the favorites since they both have strong relationships with the league and have experience live streaming big events. Google recently launched the NFL's first official YouTube channel while Yahoo signed up as an official partner of the NFL's over the top network, NFL Now.
Apple, Netflix and Facebook could use the game as a way to promote their new products (Beats streaming service, House of Cards and Facebook's video service respectively) while Verizon could use it to launch an OTT service of it's own. ESPN and Turner Sports could use it boost their newest online offerings such as ESPN's new OTT network with the NBA or B/R's expansion into video. Perform Sports EPlayer would be able to distribute the game online to a large audience reach through their syndication deals and also has a relationship with the league through Sporting News.
How would the game look like on Google or Yahoo?
Google and YouTube don't have an official team producing sports programming for them but they have relationships with sports content producers such as The Whistle, Vice, SB Nation, Bleacher Report, Fox, ESPN and could rely on one of them to help produce. They could also rely on NFL Network who already produce all of the content for the NFL's YouTube channel. The other option would be to hire a brand new staff of producers, production crew, graphics staff and talent for the one-off event but that might be a waste of money if they won't serve any purpose with Google other than this game.
I'm sure Google would enlist a slew of YouTube stars to promote the telecast if they won the rights to this game just as they've done in the past with other big events like their interview with President Obama. Google has done a great job of hosting video content on their site but hasn't produced much original programming of their own, something which will be a big focus for them in 2015. This game would be a great way to cajole talent looking to join an MCN or move to another video service like Vessel or Vimeo that they should stay with Google.
Unlike Google, Yahoo has a sports team full of a production crew and talent that could participate in this game. Their team probably isn't as large as the crew in charge of producing an NFL regular season game but they could borrow folks from their partners at NBC Sports or NFL Network to help out. I wouldn't be surprised to see CBS helping out either, as mentioned above.