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NFL Officially on YouTube: Why the League Took Years to Come to No. 1 Video Site

The National Football League, after years of old-media thinking, has finally bowed to reality in 2015 and launched an official channel on YouTube one week before Super Bowl XLIX.

The NFL, which generates north of $6 billion revenue per year, believes it has some of the most valuable intellectual property in the world. And it’s right.

However, that traditional mindset has led the league to want to control every aspect of media distribution for its brand. That includes its exclusive deal with DirecTV for the Sunday Ticket out-of-market games package, priced at $353.94 for the 2014-15 season, as well as its multibillion-dollar TV broadcast deals with NBC, ESPN, Fox and CBS (the latter of which just renewed the Thursday Night Football deal).

The league also has believed it has a huge opportunity in owning digital distribution: Last year, it launched NFL Now, a 24-7 digital network that’s partly free but includes a paid component for football nuts who want full access to its archive of games and films.

That’s all smart business. But NFL fans have been posting clips to YouTube for years, and the league has not been an official part of the action on the world’s biggest video site.

Until now: The NFL and YouTube on Monday announced a partnership that will deliver NFL content to football aficionados around the world. The NFL’s new official channel on YouTube allows viewers to access a “uniquely packaged,” seven-day-a-week NFL content programming schedule. Content posted to the NFL’s official channel on YouTube will include game previews, in-game highlights, post-game recaps as well as clips featuring news, analysis, fantasy football advice and other select content from NFL Network and NFL.com.

In addition, under the pact, official NFL game highlights and content will be available through Google Search. The newly launched NFL channel on YouTube will provide clips of many of the top plays, games, and performers from the 2014-15 season, as well as content previewing the match-up between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks for Super Bowl XLIX on Feb. 1.

The NFL’s pact with YouTube is not a Hail Mary by any means. So why did the league decide it was a good idea to team with Google at this point? It’s all about exposure — given YouTube’s 1 billion-plus monthly audience, the video site simply cannot be ignored as a distribution platform.

It’s also worth noting that the NFL reached a deal with Facebook last month to distribute clips, including game highlights, in a sponsorship deal with Verizon Wireless. The league also has worked with Twitter, under the social service’s Amplify program, to tweet out short video clips.

But back to YouTube. The service is effectively the No. 2 largest search engine in the world, after Google itself. If you are not on YouTube, you are invisible to a large (and largely younger) audience of viewers who are hungry for video content.

“Partnering with YouTube and Google provides the NFL unique access to millions of highly engaged fans through the global leader in video and search,” Hans Schroeder, the NFL’s senior VP of media strategy, business development and sales, said in a statement. “We continue to see an insatiable appetite for digital video content, and this partnership further expands fans’ ability to discover and access NFL content throughout the year.”

Even as it expands on YouTube, the NFL noted the robust popularity of its content on TV. During the 2014-15 regular season, the league reached 202.3 million unique TV viewers, representing 80% of all TV homes and 68% percent of potential viewers in the U.S., per Nielsen. NFL games accounted for the top 20 — and 45 of the 50 — most-watched TV shows among all programming in the fall of 2014. And, for the third consecutive year, an NFL game was the week’s most-watched TV show in all 17 weeks of the season.

So why bother with coming to YouTube? The NFL has finally realized that’s where it must be — to foster fan interest among the next generation.

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