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How the NFL and Silicon Valley are primed to blitz cable TV

Mark Sullivan | Aug. 27, 2013
Verizon already has a football deal. What happens if Google and Apple pile on, too?

Verizon and NFL execs don't expect NFL Mobile to cannibalize living-room TV viewers. Why, they reason, would anyone who can watch the NFL on a big screen in the living room opt to watch it instead on a tiny smartphone screen? To this extent, the NFL Mobile app targets people who want to catch games when they're nowhere near a big-screen TV.

NFL Mobile on Verizon doesn't create a cord-cutting opportunity either. To reiterate: All home games that will be available on NFL Mobile for Verizon next year will also be shown on local network and pay TV. So there's no reason to try to stream Sunday Ticket games to your TV set from your smartphone.

Still, the NFL's deal with Verizon shows what can happen when a premium content owner goes directly to an Internet company for distribution. Sports leagues have long partnered with cable and satellite operators in a lucrative marriage, but now their mutually affirming bonds are eroding.

What would Google do?
The NFL's deal with Verizon was crafted to respect the turf of cable and satellite players, but the old guard of TV content distribution is unlikely to maintain its stranglehold on football broadcasting rights forever.

Last Tuesday, AllThingsD reported that the NFL suits were at Google talking to CEO Larry Page and YouTube programming boss Robert Kyncl about the possibility that Google will become the new owner of the NFL Sunday Ticket package. (The current owner, DirectTV, loses its exclusive hold on the all-you-can-eat package at the end of 2014.)

When you buy the package from DirectTV today, you pay a base price of $45 for five months, with the option of moving up to the $60 "Max" tier, which enables you to stream the video to your laptop, phone, or tablet.

If Google/YouTube bought the rights to NFL Sunday Ticket, it might get creative about offsetting the price of the programming with advertising. And even if Google charged viewers the same price that DirectTV does, it might provide a better overall experience for football fans.

"With their mobile device and the Chromecast [Google's tiny USB streaming stick], the user could take the Sunday Ticket to every 'dumb' television anywhere—in their home, at a hotel, at a friend's home, etc.," writes Albert Lai, COO of the Internet video platform company Brightcove, in an email message. "Additionally, Chromecast enables a true second screen experience, enabling additional game information on the device (e.g., social dialog, real-time stats, real-time picture galleries, fantasy rosters, etc.) that enriches the experience."

This increased functionality is attractive to programmers, and may end up being a game changer. "The programmers could start to go directly to consumers, offering a pure digital experience that may be better than what you get on pay TV," Lai notes.


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