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NFL Streaming Rights: Apple, Google, Amazon, Verizon Are In the Mix

The National Football League is shopping digital rights for “Thursday Night Football” games — and tech giants Apple, Amazon.com, Google and Verizon’s Go90 are each expected to try to get in on the action, according to industry sources.

On Monday, the NFL announced two-year TV broadcast deals with CBS and NBC to divvy up the Thursday matches, with each network securing rights to five. CBS for the last two seasons had rights to eight “Thursday Night Football” games.

In announcing the TV deals, the league said it is “in active discussions with prospective digital partners” for global over-the-top streaming rights to the same games.

The NFL didn’t say what companies those were, but multiple sources say Apple, Amazon, Google and Verizon Communications are among the players expected to put in bids for the marquee property. The “Thursday Night Football” digital rights could be sold to more than one distributor, and the league is considering a variety of scenarios, including potentially mixing in games played overseas, according to one source familiar with the talks.

Reps for the NFL, Apple and Verizon declined to comment. Amazon and Google did not respond to requests for comment.

Last October, Yahoo became the first digital outlet to exclusively stream an NFL game worldwide. The companies said 15.2 million unique viewers logged in for at least part of the Oct. 25 live stream of the Buffalo Bills-Jacksonville Jaguars game played in London, and both parties claimed they were pleased with the results.

Given Yahoo’s current turmoil — it is laying off 15% of its workforce and is exploring the possibility of selling all or part of the company — the Internet company may not be in a position to land the “Thursday Night Football” package.

For streaming distributors, the value of the “Thursday Night Football” games would seem somewhat diluted in the U.S., given that the games will already be available to American television viewers on CBS and NBC (and all 10 games also will be simulcast on NFL Network). Plus, those networks all have rights to stream the games to U.S. pay-TV subscribers on an authenticated basis.

Still, the opportunity to live-stream primetime NFL games is a potentially huge draw for an Internet company looking to attract viewers and build digital-entertainment cred. Pro football games could buttress video services from each of the four players said to be throwing their hats onto the gridiron.

Apple has been in the process of assembling an OTT service stocked with TV programming; the company is going after the NFL rights even though it hasn’t entirely determined how it would present the games, sources said.

Verizon, which has an existing exclusive pact with the NFL to live-stream games for smartphone subscribers, is looking at securing “Thursday Night Football” games for Go90, its free, ad-supported mobile video service, according to a source.

Meanwhile Google recently launched YouTube Red, a $10-per-month service with no ads, unlimited music and a forthcoming batch of original films and TV shows. Amazon has the $99-per-year Prime program, which includes unlimited video streaming of licensed programming and original series and films from Amazon Studios.

Netflix, the world’s biggest subscription-streaming service, is not likely to bid for the NFL games package. Execs have routinely ruled out the addition of live programming to the service, and sports in particular; that said, Netflix in years past disavowed any plans to develop original programming.

A looming question at this point is how much big companies like Apple, Amazon, Google and Verizon — which each have billions in cash on their balance sheets — are willing to shell out for the privilege of getting on the NFL’s roster.

Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.

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