Call it a one-yard gain for the OTT team: The NFL has earmarked one of its Week 7 games, the Jacksonville Jaguars-Buffalo Bills game being played in London, England, to be streaming-only. The event won't be available via broadcast TV, nor will it be shown on DirecTV's (NASDAQ: DTV) Sunday Ticket service.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the decision was made at the NFL owners' meetings and that a distributor has not yet been named--in fact, bids haven't even been submitted yet. The regular season game will be played Oct. 25 at 9:30 a.m. EDT (2:30 p.m. GMT).
While the WSJ article pegs this move as a "turning point" for the NFL in regards to online video, it feels more like just one more baby step. The league just last year launched a TV Everywhere-friendly Web service, NFL Now, which offers game highlights and some archived footage. It also debuted a channel on YouTube last month.
In February, the NFL tested the OTT waters by live-streaming the Super Bowl for free to desktop viewers and those accessing NFL Now through a streaming device. (Due to licensing requirements, mobile phones couldn't stream the game unless they were Verizon phones.) The league has explored other online video partnerships, including with Google, WSJ noted, but ultimately re-signed the Sunday Ticket package with DirecTV.
The NFL is certainly exploring the most profitable way to package its highly valuable sports content for the increasing online audience. And there are likely huge concerns about doing it right. Problems like pirated live-streams of games, cannibalizing its own cable network's audiences (as well as licensed broadcasters'), and correctly monetizing online ads around the games are probably gumming up the league's planning process. Another big factor: Its games are already tied into contracts with broadcasters until 2022.
Still--and this is perhaps completely unrelated to its OTT efforts--the NFL this week also lifted its long-maligned broadcast blackout rule. This mandated that if a game wasn't 85 percent sold out within 72 hours of kickoff, the local affiliate station could not show it. While the rule applies to TV broadcast, lifting it also could do away with one potential live-streaming issue in NFL team's local broadcast areas.
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