National Football League games are the biggest draw in broadcast television, with national telecasts averaging more than 20 million weekly viewers last season for one network—NBC—alone. While the league's digital presence has also been growing (NBC's streamed games averaged a record 3.3 million unique users last season, up 9 percent year over year), the NFL this season plans to livestream more games than ever across multiple platforms, including digital partners CBS Sports and Yahoo, and offer fans a comprehensive paid subscription service featuring premium content.
To help make viewing a beefed-up, more seamless experience for fans, the NFL will announce on Tuesday that it has rolled up all its subscription offerings into one package called Domestic NFL Game Pass. The service, which will cost $99 per year, will include NFL Game Rewind, NFL Audio Pass, NFL Preseason Live and the subscription portion of the retooled NFL Now, which features NFL Films and other long-form content.
The free, ad-supported version of NFL Now will be added to NFL Mobile and become the basis for much of the video on that platform. NFL Now will no longer be a stand-alone app. The goal is to provide fans with a more user-friendly experience.
"A lot of people were confused by what they could get for free," explained Brian Rolapp, NFL's evp of media.
Perkins Miller, the NFL's chief digital officer, added that the league will employ dynamic ad insertion for NFL Now video. NFL Now advertisers will include National Car Rental, Geico, Coors Light, KFC and Lexus. Geico and Coors Light will also sponsor branded segments. "We've actually built up a fair amount of expertise in doing live, dynamic ad stitching into our live-game streams," said Miller. That will also extend to archived segments on NFL Now. "There will be postroll inventory available there for our advertisers to slide in on," he said.
Still, NFL Now remains a tricky sell. The issue is how to make it a destination without the feature that's most appealing to fans: live games. "The thing about nonlive NFL content, it's everywhere," said Jason Maltby, director of national broadcast TV at Mindshare. "Once you get live games, you're fine."
To that end, livestreaming of games will be bigger than ever this season. CBS will offer a pair of regular season streamed games, including the nationally broadcast Thanksgiving Day matchup, while Yahoo will become the first digital outlet to exclusively carry a game.
"This is a first step," said Rolapp of the Yahoo deal, noting that broadband distribution has reached a point where it can support livestreaming. "One of the reasons we're there is to see if this could be a viable distribution for more than just one game," Rolapp said.
While Mindshare's Maltby commends the league for taking a "methodical" and "well thought out" approach to the new digital offerings, he maintains that TV will remain a popular draw for brands looking to reach a mass audience because of the scarcity of the product. "Ultimately, everybody—the league, advertisers, agencies and broadcast partners—want to see what is the effect of adding these platforms," he said. "Are you cannibalizing one platform for another, or are you inviting new viewers into the franchise?"
This story first appeared in the Sept. 7 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.