Last year, the first regular season NFL game was streamed exclusively on Yahoo. For the next two sesasons, Twitter gets into the NFL by streaming 10 Thursday Night Football games starting in September. It seems that streaming is muscling its way into the NFL even as the existing television contract is locked into place until 2022. And as the television partners pay billions of dollars to air the NFL, the league realizes that the future of distributing its product is now.
As technology changes, the man in charge of keeping up with those changes and perhaps change the way the NFL is seen is its executive vice president of media, Brian Rolapp.
He was responsible for dividing the Thursday Night Football for the 2016 and 2017 seasons among two networks, CBS and NBC, and bringing Twitter into the mix by having it stream the games that both networks will air, but not the eight games that will be telecast on NFL Network.
Rolapp told Variety’s Brian Steinberg that Twitter appealed to the NFL due its mobility and global reach:
We liked the idea that they were very mobile focused. Our whole philosophy entering into these Thursday-night negotiations is that we could use digital to drive incremental consumption, not cannibalize it, but increase it. That’s where people are — on mobile. People who are detached from home, detached from pay TV. Mobile is a great place to hit them and Twitter has a very strong mobile presence, which we liked.
As for splitting TNF between CBS and NBC this year, the NFL is not concerned about viewer confusion and feels that viewers will find the games:
There are a couple of things in the past few years that told us this consumer confusion, a risk, didn’t overly concern us. When we did “Thursday Night Football” with CBS, where we put half the games on CBS and half on the NFL Network, what we saw that consumption on both platforms went up…. People will find it. In a world where things are so fragmented and NFL football is maybe the only thing that can aggregate large audiences, they will find it. Between having a broadcast component and a pay-TV component and a digital component, people will find it.
As for the future, Rolapp says the NFL is going into it as blindly as we are, but the Thursday Night Football package is a guinea pig for how games might be distributed in the next TV contract:
We think the trends we are seeing now will hold. 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. 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. We see that as an opportunity… I do think that television isn’t going away. Television, and broadcast specifically, will play a very strong role. But I think it will be different. These Thursday packages are giving us a lot of the learnings we need in order to prepare for that time.
How we might watch games now may not be how we watch them in the future. As technology gets better and we can watch the NFL on mobiles and tablets, there could be other platforms in the future (smartwatches, smart cars, and dare we say brain implants?). Who knows?
The NFL wants to be there and will ensure that it will find ways to reach consumers whether it’s through TV, streaming services or technology that has yet to be invented.