CBS has secured a deal to live-stream its package of Sunday afternoon and Thursday-night NFL games on its subscription-video-on-demand service, a major coup that puts some of the most coveted content on TV on a digital platform controlled by a traditional TV company.
CBS will begin streaming the games on its “All Access” SVOD service this Sunday. The pact will also include pre-season and post-season games that CBS has the rights to air on its broadcast TV network, along with the Super Bowl, when its CBS’ turn to air the event. The Super Bowl broadcast rotates among CBS, NBC and Fox, all the broadcast networks that have deals to air NFL games. All of the “NFL on CBS” games remain available on mobile devices exclusively through the NFL Mobile app for Verizon Wireless customers.
The deal marks a coup for CBS, which has been in discussions to gain rights to live-stream the games since it launched “All Access” in October of 2014. The National Football League has been experimenting with digital distribution, and earlier this year struck a deal with Twitter that granted that social-media company the rights to stream NFL “Thursday Night Football” games around the world. Those games air on CBS, NBC and the NFL Network during the course of the season. “Making sure we can make our content available everywhere is certainly paramount to our future,” said Marc DeBevoise, president and chief operating officer of CBS Interactive., in an interview.
Terms of the deal could not be learned, but CBS is expected to pay the NFL more for the live-streaming rights. The network pays approximately $1 billion a year for the rights to air NFL games on Sunday afternoons in deal that lasts from 2014 to 2022, and pays approximately $225 million for a package of five Thursday-night games in a two-year deal that will end after next season.
“CBS has been one of our most trusted and valuable partners for over 50 years, and we’re happy to extend our relationship with them in new and exciting ways,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in a prepared statement. “Distribution of our games on ‘CBS All Access’ is a win for the millions of NFL fans across the country, especially those looking to watch our games on these emerging digital platforms.”
For years, live sports have proven to be the one TV genre resistant to the steady erosion of audience sparked by new technology that allows consumers to stream video on mobile devices at times of their own choosing. Because most fans want to watch the games as they happen, not days after they air, sports events have proven a boon to a TV business grappling with how to monetize a viewership migrating toward new video behaviors. NFL games continue to capture some of TV’s biggest audiences, which prompts advertisers to fork over millions. Fox is seeking more than $5 million for a 30-second ad in next year’s Super Bowl, according to ad buyers familiar with negotiations. The average cost of a 30-second ad in NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” this season is a whopping $650,000, according to Variety’s annual survey of primetime ad prices. The average cost of a 30-second ad in “Thursday Night Football” ranges between $505,463 and $529,989, with both CBS and NBC seeking significantly more in sales talks, according to people familiar with the matter.
In recent weeks, however, even the mighty have fallen. NBC’s recent Olympics broadcast from Rio suffered a decline in TV ratings even as digital activity proved robust. And viewership for football in the first several weeks of the season dipped, with ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” particularly hard hit. NFL and TV executives have attributed the football disparity to factors ranging from rabid interest in the recent presidential election to the quality of the match-ups this year.
At the NFL, executives are very much aware of shifts in viewer behavior. “Fans will continue to be digital. They will continue to be more mobile. They will continue to be more social in how they engage with content, said Brian Rolapp, the League’s executive vice president of media, in an interview with Variety earlier this year. “I don’t think that is going to change, and that’s going to be accentuated by the fact that this younger generation — and specifically the millennials — is going to continue to grow.”
CBS, which has its roots in broad TV fare ranging from “Captain Kangaroo” and “Green Acres” to “NCIS” and “The Big Bang Theory,” has also made strides to appeal to a rising generation of viewers accustomed to getting their video entertainment on-demand. “All Access” was designed as a way to monetize an audience on the go. And while it offers hours of both current primetime series and older favorites, the company has less say over live sports, since rights to the games are strictly controlled by the various leagues behind them.
CBS said “All Access” subscribers will receive all NFL ON CBS games being broadcast in their local market. Beginning next season, the deal will allow “All Access” customers and eligible pay-TV subscribers to stream CBS’ NFL content on the NFL’s own digital properties. “All Access” will also allow users to sample content from NFL Game Pass, the NFL’s digital video subscription service, which makes games and other programming available on-demand.