Underscoring once again how unpredictable the online video space is, Twitter has emerged as the unlikely winner of the rights to stream NFL Thursday Night Football (TNF) games for the 2016-2017 season. Just yesterday I wrote that with Facebook and Apple bowing out, the bidding likely came down to Amazon, Verizon and Google, with Verizon the most likely winner for a variety of reasons.
On the one hand, Twitter’s interest in streaming the TNF games makes sense, as recently returned CEO Jack Dorsey has publicly stated that a top 2016 priority is live streaming, including leveraging its Periscope product. The 10 TNF games give Twitter a marquee property to highlight live streaming, which complements Twitter activity around all games. And Twitter already had a deal in place with the NFL for highlight clips.
Late Friday afternoon, Bloomberg reported that Facebook had dropped out of the bidding for streaming rights to the NFL’s Thursday night package. That news followed Recode’s report from last month that Apple had also withdrawn. With two of the most likely candidates now gone, the only digital players remaining who are both big enough to afford the deal and for whom it potentially makes enough strategic sense are likely Verizon, Google and Amazon (I’m excluding Yahoo since its own instability almost certainly precludes a bid).
The never-ending tussle between pay-TV operators and sports TV networks over escalating carriage fees is back in focus due to the standoff between Comcast and the YES Network, which has the rights to broadcast New York Yankees games, among others. Comcast dropped YES last November, leaving approximately 900K of its New York area subscribers without access to YES. With the Yankees’ opening day one week from today, the standoff is going to gain much more attention.
As with other sports TV carriage disputes, this one boils down to money and audience. Comcast is arguing that YES’s demand for a reported $6 per month per subscriber isn’t justified given its ratings. Last November Comcast said that over 90% of its subscribers didn’t watch the equivalent of even one quarter of the 130 games YES broadcast in 2015. Nielsen said that YES averaged 250K viewers in 2015, a decrease of 44% vs. its peak of 450K in 2007.
I'm pleased to present the 310th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
This week Colin and I recap our experiences streaming the Super Bowl to the various devices we tried. As I wrote on Monday, overall I thought the streaming quality was quite strong, with latency being the primary issue. Colin’s experience was more mixed, with his good old over-the-air signal the strongest.
No surprise, the size of the audience streaming the game set a new record with nearly 4 million unique viewers, up about 60% vs. last year. But I was a bit surprised it wasn’t even bigger given the breadth of OTT options. Unfortunately CBS didn’t provide any details on streaming by device. We discuss the factors that drove audience one way or another.
With the Super Bowl behind us, all eyes turn to the NFL’s pending OTT deal for its Thursday Night package. There are so many potential bidders in the mix who can leverage the games to their advantage.
Listen now to learn more!
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Overall, the quality of streaming of last night’s Super Bowl was strong, although I experienced inconsistent latency across different devices I was using. As shown in the images below, I set up an informal lab in my house, with the game on Comcast, via X1 (center), Roku TV (left rear), Amazon Fire TV on an Insignia (right rear), CBSSports.com (front left and right) and Verizon Go90 (front center).
As can be seen, each device is lagging behind the CBS broadcast feed on TV and to a different extent. I measured the latency at a few points and it seemed to get worse as the game progressed. For Lady Gaga’s national anthem, the Roku and Amazon feeds were approximately 40 seconds delayed, but by the end of the game, each was over a minute delayed. The online streams were approximately half this delay and the Verizon stream still slightly better.
Continuing the trend of making live sports available to viewers across a wide range of devices, CBS will stream live coverage of this Sunday’s Super Bowl 50 broadcast to viewers both online and through an expanded network of over-the-top connected TV devices, including Xbox One, Apple TV, Roku and Microsoft 10. This decision by CBS and the NFL to allow, and even encourage, the consumption of the premier sports event of the year through connected TV devices is significant for 5 reasons:
The NFL announced yesterday that it was splitting broadcast rights to Thursday Night Football in 2016 and 2017 between CBS and NBC. The WSJ reported that each network will pay $225 million for the annual rights, a 50% increase over the $300 million per season that CBS alone had been paying.
But the higher broadcast fees are just the beginning of how the NFL will more fully monetize the upcoming seasons. More intriguing were the sentences from the NFL’s press release: "The NFL is in active discussions with prospective digital partners for OTT streaming rights to Thursday Night Football. A deal announcement is expected in the near future."
FreeWheel has released its Q3 ’15 Video Monetization Report (VMR), which reveals the continuation of a number of important industry trends. Both ad views and video views grew 28% vs. Q3 ’14, consistent with growth rates seen over the past few quarters.
Live video was once again the fastest-growing genre, with a 113% year-over-year growth, compared to 30% for long-form and 9% for short-form. Sports was again the biggest driver of live with 63% of sports video viewed live, compared with 17% of news video viewed live (other genres were in low single digits). News had the biggest proportion of short-form (76%), while Entertainment (60%) ad Kids (59%) had the biggest proportion of long-form.
I'm pleased to present the 290th edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
On this week’s podcast we do an in-depth Q&A with our guest Lee Berke, who runs LHB Sports, Entertainment and Media, Inc. Lee has helped dozens of teams create and implement sports TV networks. He has a wealth of insights into the role of sports in pay-TV and how online and mobile video are causing leagues and teams to adjust their traditional distribution strategies.
Sports are a key driver of increased pay-TV rates and as VideoNuze readers know, I’ve been writing for years (examples here, here, here) about the billions of dollars non-fans pay each year in the form of a “sports tax” - subsidizing expensive sports networks they never watch. With the advent of robust, inexpensive OTT entertainment programming options, the pay-TV multichannel bundle has come under more pressure than ever, with subscriber losses peaking in Q2 ’15.
In our Q&A with Lee we explore these issues and how he sees OTT impacting teams, leagues and sports TV networks. Lee believes TV will remain the most significant revenue source in sports for the foreseeable future, but also sees the leagues more aggressively experimenting online to serve a new generation of fans. Lee also describes how he’s advising teams, particularly on how to maintain flexibility and capitalize on new technologies.
Listen in to learn more!
Yesterday, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball Advanced Media announced a multi-faceted 6-year deal in which MLBAM will pay $600 million to take over distribution and operations of NHL’s GameCenter LIVE and Center Ice online subscription services (including via pay-TV operators), manage all of NHL’s web sites, manage all of NHL Network’s operations (including taking over ad sales) and jointly develop new digital products. As part of the deal, NHL is reportedly getting a 7%-10% stake
in MLBAM, which is also reportedly going to be spun off (finally) from Major League Baseball. (clarification, per MLBAM spokesman, NHL's stake is in BAM Tech, the technology arm of MLBAM)
That’s a mouthful, but what it amounts to is a major expansion in MLBAM’s scope of business, instantly morphing the company from being primarily a provider of technology services supporting rights-holders to being a multi-platform distribution company in its own right. As such, MLBAM may have just become the most disruptive force in sports TV, signaling to every broadcast and cable TV network which has an interest in sports TV - from CBS, ABC, NBC, ESPN and on down the line - that the ground just shifted underneath them. Here’s why.
Disney CEO Bob Iger was interviewed on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” this morning (see below embed) and offered a surprising long-term vision for ESPN, saying, “Eventually, ESPN becomes a business that is sold directly to the consumer, where there’s an engagement that ESPN will know who their consumers are, will use that information to customize the product to enable personalization, to engage more effectively and offer advertisers more value as well. That’s longer-term. I think there’s an inevitability to that, but I don’t think it’s right around the corner.”
It was the first time that I’ve heard Iger articulate so clearly how he sees ESPN’s future unfolding. Iger made the comments in the context of describing the huge distribution, promotion and consumption changes roiling the media landscape. Iger observed that despite a fall-off in pay-TV subscriptions, he doesn’t see the ecosystem changing significantly in the next 5 years, and that it was impossible for anyone predict with conviction how the media world will look 10 years from now.
With talk of cord-cutting everywhere these days, independent ad-supported cable TV network Tennis Channel is showing early signs of success with a compelling new model in which linear, TV Everywhere and OTT converge to super-serve audiences and reinforce the value of sports on pay-TV.
At the 2014 French Open, Tennis Channel launched "Tennis Channel Plus" which runs $12/month or $80/year. Tennis Channel Plus now provides access to over 650 live events per year and over 1,000 hours of on-demand viewing. This means Tennis Channel adds broader coverage of tournaments it already broadcasts on linear, plus streaming of tournaments it hasn't previously covered.
Here's some data that contradicts conventional wisdom: in a new survey from Clearleap, 67% of pay-TV subscribers said sports are not the reason they maintain a subscription, citing viewership of programs on other TV networks instead. Even sports fans didn't express a lot of enthusiasm for sports as justifying the multichannel bundle, with almost half citing other programs they watch as requiring a subscription.
There has always been a strong industry consensus that live sports were the firewall for pay-TV's multichannel bundle. Even as entertainment programming has proliferated in OTT services and elsewhere, the only place to get marquee sports programming was on pay-TV. Therefore, the reasoning went, sports were the "glue" keeping subscribers on board.
I'm pleased to present the 271st edition of the VideoNuze podcast with my weekly partner Colin Dixon of nScreenMedia.
We had recorded last week's podcast just prior to the news that Comcast was dropping its merger bid for Time Warner Cable, so first up this week we share thoughts on why the deal collapsed.
In my view, the perception of the deal transformed from being cable-centric to being broadband-centric, largely due to the rise of online video usage. As a result, Comcast, post-merger, having 57% of American broadband connections under the new 25 mbps definition, became a sticking point (never mind that it actually has 56% on its own, reflecting its aggressive broadband infrastructure upgrades).
This is a key irony of the deal's failure - Comcast has invested billions in technology, but its woeful customer service ultimately undermines these investments and defines its reputation. In a hypothetical world where Comcast was a "most admired company," (like Apple, Amazon, etc.), I think it's quite possible regulators would have actually welcomed the Time Warner deal.
We then turn our attention to Verizon's "Custom TV" packaging and ESPN's lawsuit. As I explained in Has Verizon Put ESPN Into a Public Relations Headlock Over Opaque "Sports Tax?" I think Verizon is making a brazen move to reign in sports costs. Colin and I agree it's the most startling thing yet to happen in a tumultuous year for the pay-TV industry.
Listen in to learn more!
We've seen a lot of surprising moves in the pay-TV industry in 2015, but at the top of the list has to be how Verizon is trying to put ESPN into a public relations headlock with its new "Custom TV" packaging plan.
If you haven't been watching this closely, Verizon announced "Custom TV" last week. Under the plan, Verizon FiOS subscribers can take a base package of 45 channels, including the 4 broadcast TV networks, for $54.99 per month, and get 2 "channel packs" which are smaller groups of genre-based such as lifestyle, Entertainment, News & Info, Sports, etc. Additional channel packs are $10 per month.
NBC Sports Live Extra app is now available on both Roku and Apple TV, with the caveat that only authenticated pay-TV viewers will be able to access the app's 3,000 annual live sports streams. The move bolsters TV Everywhere, the pay-TV industry's initiative to enable access to content when, where and how viewers want it.
Last week, I shared new research showing that heavy TV Everywhere users rate pay-TV a much stronger value than lighter users. This is a core TV Everywhere goal - to get viewers watching more TV and feeling better about their expensive monthly subscriptions so they're not tempted to switch to cheaper OTT options. Live sports in particular have been a hugely successful genre in TV Everywhere, as measured by FreeWheel.
Yesterday provided us with 2 excellent examples of how OTT is changing the video landscape and how the pay-TV ecosystem is struggling to adapt. The first example was the second straight LA Dodgers' opening day in which the majority of LA fans were not able to watch the game because SportsNet LA doesn't have deals with most of the area's pay-TV operators. The second example was the $785 million write-down announced by Viacom to cover the costs of an expected "strategic realignment."
The NFL announced yesterday that it plans to exclusively stream a single game next season, a week 7 matchup from London between the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars. The October 25th game will still be televised in the 2 home markets, starting at 9:30am ET, but elsewhere it will only be available online (though the NFL hasn't yet signed a digital distribution partner).
Brian Rolapp, the NFL's EVP, Media, characterized the move as mainly an experiment, meant to impart as much learning as possible (he also maintained that TV is still the best distribution option). That sounds right to me, though how much can really be learned from streaming a single game is a bit unclear (e.g. advertiser interest? technical or delivery quality? audience size?).
In last Friday's podcast, Colin and I covered a lot of ground in assessing HBO Now's opportunities and risks. One of the points I raised, which I believe deserves much more attention in understanding HBO Now's disruptive potential, is how it threatens pay-TV's multi-billion dollar "sports tax" on non-fans.
I've been writing about the sports tax - how non-fans effectively subsidize the cost of super-expensive sports networks such as ESPN and regional sports networks (RSNs) that they don't watch - for almost 5 years now. In a back-of-the-envelope analysis I did following a panel I sat on with Mark Cuban back in 2011, I estimated the annual tax on non sports fans amounted to at least $2 billion per year (4 years later, it's now much higher).
2014 was the year during which the "Big Game" became the "Really Big Game." From the Super Bowl and Sochi Olympics kicking off the year, to the college football Bowl Season closing it out. One could hardly turn around in 2014 without hearing of another programmer boasting cutting-edge streaming coverage of tent-pole sporting events or unprecedented depth of exposure for previously hard-to-find games.
Live sports serve a dual function for programmers trying to expand their digital footprint. In addition to bringing significant numbers of viewers to ultra-premium, high-CPM ad inventory, live sports have also been deployed as an entry point - hooking new adopters and indoctrinating digital viewing habits.