NFL's Kraft: ‘The future is OTT’

The NFL remains one of the most reliable ratings performers.

During a wide-ranging appearance at the Cannes Lions brand extravaganza, New England Patriots owner and NFL broadcast committee chair Robert Kraft declared the league’s “future is OTT.”

The session, a group conversation among Kraft, WPP Group chief Martin Sorrell and director Ron Howard, offered some of the first public comments by a major NFL figure since Amazon paid a reported $50 million in April to secure rights to 10 Thursday night games.

"For us the future is OTT," Kraft said. "The thing we have to be careful of is millennials. They don't watch TV, they don't have TVs or subscribe to cable. So we have to bring that audience in. Partly it's done through fantasy games and linking to that. Over-the-top is a great opportunity."

The exact tension that Kraft described—luring millennials while also reckoning with their aversion to pay TV or TV at all—is coming to bear on the networks. CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN have all forked over billions for TV deals and the NFL remains one of the most reliable ratings performers in the faltering traditional bundle. Even so, the oversupply of games has led to audience fatigue and declining ratings for prime-time games.

And yet, even as the league saddles its traditional network partners with less favorable returns, it is creating a framework for an OTT future. CBS recently acknowledged as much by locking in NFL games as part of its $5.99 a month OTT offering, CBS All Access, though those streams are restricted to markets where local stations are streamed in market. That covers most, but not all, of the U.S.

Amazon’s outlay is five times than of Twitter, which streamed a 10-game “Thursday Night Football” package during the 2016 NFL season. In 2015, the NFL got Yahoo to pay a reported $17 million for streaming rights to a single game—and one involving the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars, at that. The deals have allowed streaming partners to air the broadcast feed, while selling a small amount of advertisements that are exclusive to the live stream.

Kraft also said that the NFL plans to expand its international offerings in upcoming years, including the addition of a permanent team in the United Kingdom. Recently, the NFL has added additional games to its London series and held a “Monday Night Football” contest in Mexico City. League officials say a robust international audience will help drive revenue growth.

“Now we play four games a year in London and sell tickets to 80,000 people and we’re going to have a team in London,” Kraft said. “We’re playing the Raiders in Mexico and have plans to play in Germany, Canada and Brazil and China. I don’t know, why not France?”