The combination of streaming and broadcast TV has resulted in more people watching NFL games. The football league’s viewership climbed 6% this season. The audience boost is likely due to Amazon Prime Video’s Thursday Night Football as well as ABC and ESPN networks, according to BNN.
Amazon has exclusive rights to Thursday Night Football which has made the company a top player in the competition between providers to offer viewers live sports streaming. BNN said Thursday Night Football ratings spiked 25% from last year, now boasting an average of 12.5 million viewers per game.
Fans, leagues, and advertisers have all recognized the potential of adding live sports to streaming services. Games reach a wider audience, and with it, their sponsors and advertisers. Fans enjoy the convenience, content options, and quality streams of games. As the demand for sports streaming rises, more cable providers are looking for ways to get involved. By 2027, revenue from sports streaming services overall is expected to reach 22.6 billion, according to data from Parks Associates.
Last month, Comcast said 25% of its network internet traffic came from Amazon’s Thursday Night Football. In addition, Comcast said later this season the NFL will stream its Playoff game exclusively on NBC’s streaming service, Peacock.
While Amazon Prime Video reflects a shift in how we watch sports, the traditional broadcasting model isn’t dead. In September, Disney said that Monday Night Football would be returning to ABC and ESPN. Amid the actors and writers on strike in Hollywood — the latter of which has reached a deal — the networks were looking for ways to fill out their programming slots.
Sports leagues, TV providers, and streaming services have found themselves in a potential symbiotic relationship. Leagues want to get their games in front of a large audience, and many media providers are struggling with profitability.
With a plethora of services available, leagues can shop for the highest bidder. This is why we’ve seen larger companies buying rights to sports content, thereby making their service more appealing to viewers and advertisers. For example, while fans can watch NFL games through Prime Video, they can also subscribe to the NFL Sunday Ticket through YouTube TV.
Purchasing sports media rights is becoming a leading acquisition strategy for services to gain new customers, according to Eric Sorensen, Parks Associates’ streaming video director. In addition, due to the “limited inventory” of sports, the rights aren’t cheap. This greatly reduces the companies who can afford to buy them. The premium charge to watch sports on these services is a way for the streamers to recoup finances.
Sorensen said the “long game” for many services is to create a sports tier or bundle within their service for an additional fee. We’re already seeing evidence of streamers playing the “long game” Sorensen described.
Max, formerly HBO Max, launched its Bleacher Report sports tier last month which features over 300 live U.S. and global sports events, including MLB, NHL, NBA, NCAA Men’s March Madness, U.S. Soccer events, year-round. The package also includes live video content, replays as well as pre- and post-game shows. While it’s free for now, Max will begin charging $9.99 a month for the add-on after March.
If a rights deal is already in place, services have struck partnerships with the rights holders, like Verizon and the NFL Sunday Ticket on YouTube TV.
The September agreement between Spectrum and Disney gave free Disney+ access to Spectrum subscribers, and free ESPN+ access to Spectrum TV Select Plus subscribers.
Netflix essentially eliminated the need to purchase sports media rights by creating its own live sports event, The Netflix Cup, which will premiere on November 14.
In addition, as the regional sports network business continues to crumble, local teams are looking for a new broadcasting home – which opens the door to their own team-specific streaming service that charges their own extra fees.
Correction: The previous version of the story misspelled Eric Sorensen’s name.