Broadcast and cable networks face increasing competition for NFL TV rights, though the league’s current deal doesn’t expire until 2022. But with Twitter opening the door to streaming NFL broadcasts last season with its Thursday Night Football package, other technology companies like Google and Facebook are expected to join the future bidding.
CBS chairman, president and CEO Les Moonves accepts that the battle for NFL TV packages will only become more fierce as more contestants enter the arena, and acknowledges that the next deal will almost certainly include a digital partner. However, he still believes that television will ultimately win out over streaming rivals.
“Look, the tech giants all want to be involved in the NFL. It’s the best product in television,” Moonves said Tuesday at the Deutsche Bank 2017 Media & Telecom Conference, as reported by Advertising Age’s Anthony Crupi. “There’s going to be a lot of activity. As we head toward that large deal, I think these companies are going to be part of it, [but] I think the NFL still believes in the sanctity of broadcasting.”
Cable, especially, faces a challenge from subscribers increasingly cutting the cord and opting for over-the-top options. But in Moonves’ view, if the ultimate goal is to reach the widest possible audience, the NFL isn’t going to turn its back on its broadcast TV partners. The league’s current deals with CBS, Fox and NBC (which, along with ESPN, total $39.6 billion) certainly support that argument. Even if ESPN has Monday Night Football, NFL games are still seen by and large on broadcast networks which don’t require a cable provider to watch.
“There’s a reason there’s been no Super Bowl on cable, that the three major packages are still on network [TV],” Moonves added. “You know, ESPN has [“Monday Night Football”], but I think there’s the belief and the knowledge that you can’t get 115 million people watching the Super Bowl online.”
In his piece, Crupi points out that the Fox TV broadcast of Super Bowl LI drew 111.3 million viewers. Meanwhile, the Fox Go livestream pulled in an average of 1.72 million watchers. That’s under two percent of the total audience for this year’s Super Bowl, which resembles the same slice of the viewership that Twitter got for its Thursday Night Football streaming telecasts.
Additionally, Moonves said that CBS would be willing to re-up for the shared Thursday Night Football package before it expires at the end of next season.
“We would do the same deal. The scheduling was a little all over the place with NFL Network, [but] I think that’s going to be rectified this year,” said Moonves. “Yes, we lose a bit of money, you know, on paper on Thursday night, we make money on Sunday, but there are so many added benefits with the rest of the schedule. Outside of ‘Sunday Night Football,’ it’s the highest-rated program on television, so it’s still important, we would like to have it. You know, I liked it better when we had all eight games ourselves, but we’ll see what happens.”
CBS and NBC combined to pay a reported $450 million for the Thursday Night Football package.