The NFL has long reigned as the king of cable TV ratings. For years, the NFL has claimed the top spot in most-watched shows and has been a huge moneymaker for cable giants like FOX, CBS, NBC, and ESPN. The Super Bowl often draws over 100 million American viewers and is considered a cherished cultural event.
Yet, as TV has seen a decline in viewership in the digital age, so has the NFL. This past year’s Super Bowl ratings fell seven percent from last year and drew the lowest number of viewers since 2009.
Much of the blame can be placed on cord-cutting and the recent controversies surrounding the NFL and Colin Kaepernick. NFL ratings will probably continue to fall under the linear TV model.
Despite all the doom foretold by all the armchair quarterbacks in the media, the NFL continues to gain popularity and profitability. Part of this increase in national revenues is due to the league’s TV deals, but the main reason is that it is becoming easier to stream NFL games. The games are simply more accessible than they used to be, and it’s all thanks to our mobile video devices.
How Mobile Video Changed the NFL Business Landscape
Mobile video has quickly grown as the dominant viewing choice of most Americans, and many demand that their content be made accessible on mobile. Streaming giants and the old guard TV networks have all scrambled to offer more and more options for streaming their content. Even hardware companies like Apple see that content is the real future of digital media.
CBS recently reached an extension with the NFL that would allow the network to stream games on mobile devices along with their current linear TV broadcast. The only caveat with CBS is that any interested party will have to purchase a subscription to CBS All Access in order stream the games.
This is similar to deals with Fox and Amazon which are all allowing greater access to NFL content. Fox just entered a huge multi-year deal for the rights to air Thursday Night Football on linear TV while Amazon received mobile rights to the stream.
All of these deals came on the heels of when Verizon’s exclusive mobile streaming deal with the NFL expired in 2017. Verizon still signed a $2.25 billion deal to continue streaming NFL games, but it lost its exclusive rights to stream over mobile. Now other companies like NBC, ESPN, CBS, and Fox are jumping at the chance to ink mobile streaming deals.
The NFL saw a market opportunity in meeting the demand for mobile video. This has led to the reworking many of their linear TV deals with mobile streaming, and they’ve seen an uptick in league revenue because of it.
The NFL Is Still Popular with Younger Generations
Millennials are blamed for killing just about every industry under the sun. Probably the biggest industry being demolished by heartless millennials is the TV industry.
A study by Omnicom Media Group found that almost half of 22 to 45 years old are watching absolutely no content on traditional TV. In fact, 47 percent of this age group consumes TV content and video on streaming platforms that were but a twinkle in the eye of the tech industry a decade ago.
When it comes to football, Nielsen ratings paint a confusing picture about its popularity among millennials. While the NFL ratings saw a nine percent overall decline during the 2016–2017 season, the total percentage of millennials who watched NFL games rose from 65 to 67 percent. What’s going on here?
Well, millennials are streaming many of their favorite sports teams over mobile. The NBA is a great example of where the NFL may soon end up. The league offers the NBA League Pass, which allows you to stream games on any mobile device for a monthly fee or even pay for just one game.
Content accessibility is the driving force behind the growth of mobile video streaming. The NFL may simply be seeing a shift of viewership from an old medium to a new medium, and the advent of more mobile streaming options is accelerating that shift.
Amazon’s Watershed Moment
One of the biggest players in NFL mobile streaming is Amazon. Last year, Amazon wrested the rights to stream primetime Thursday Night Football games from Twitter and hasn’t looked back. The online shopping and digital entertainment giant signed a two-year deal with the NFL, and the streams are available to 100 million Amazon Prime members worldwide in more than 200 countries.
Amazon’s debut in sports streaming last year was largely hailed as a big success. Many have indicated that this is a watershed moment for the NFL, TV networks, and mobile video.
As more big TV network deals expire with the NFL over the next decade, many of the tech giants will pursue these live sports contracts. This could mean a dramatic shift from linear TV to streaming by as soon as 2021.
Much of this shift may be due to increased interactivity. Twitch, owned by Amazon, also streams the Thursday Night Football games simultaneously with Amazon and Fox. Twitch is experimenting with “extensions” that provide quick access to stats and other interactive overlay elements like “over and under” predictions.
Live streaming viewers have proven to be more engaged with the ads as well as the content itself. The new “over and under” function adds a gamification element to the mobile stream, which may become more relevant due to the recent favorable Supreme Court ruling for legalized sports gambling. NBA commissioner Adam Silver feels that live sports should look more like video games, and partnerships with sites like Twitch provide that type of experience for NFL viewers.
The way people are watching NFL games is changing. Viewership of NFL games on digital platforms jumped 65 percent from 2017 to 2018. The Thursday Night Football game between the Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Rams this past month garnered the largest streaming audience for a Thursday game ever. Clearly, the expanded access to content is driving this increase in mobile viewership.
People want to watch games on their own terms. As far the NFL is concerned, it doesn’t matter how you watch their games, as long as they can still serve you a combination of beer, truck, and insurance ads while you watch.