Yesterday NBC Sports Digital announced its latest OTT subscription service, “Premier League Pass,” which provides access to 130 live matches during the 2017-2018 season for $50. Premier League Pass augments NBC Sports’ broadcast of 250 matches carried on its linear networks and online via TV Everywhere.
Premier League Pass is the latest OTT subscription service to be part of what’s known as “NBC Sports Gold.” Other services include “Cycling Pass” ($40), “Pro Motocross Pass” ($50), “Track and Field Pass” ($70) and “Rugby Pass” ($60).
As NBC Sports continues rolling out these various services, it’s becoming clearer that the company is seeing success in offering super-fans online access to specific sports. But what’s more intriguing is that NBC Sports may be laying the groundwork for how consumers will be paying for more mainstream sports somewhere down the road.
It’s no secret that sports programming - long considered the firewall for pay-TV subscriptions - is under more pressure than ever as cord-cutting and cord-nevering accelerate. ESPN alone has lost over 10 million subscribers over the past few years and is now shoring up its profitability with re-organizations and staff cuts. Other sports networks have similarly been re-organizing themselves for the online era.
It’s clear that viewers are increasingly choosing which programming appeals to them and therefore what they’re willing to pay for. The salad days of expensive sports networks being automatically included in diverse multichannel bundles, despite the fact that tens of millions of viewers never actually watched them, are winding down. Services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are training viewers to align their payments with what they actually care about.
In this context, the various a la carte passes NBC Sports is offering make a ton of sense, just as do dedicated passes from mainstream sports leagues like MLB and NBA. Cord-cutters on a budget may still want access to specific sports which these passes enable. Providing access across devices, in the same seamless manner that SVOD services are now offered, means that fans can have the same frictionless experience, rather than fumbling around a TV guide to find the correct channel.
One big indicator of where these passes are heading will be the 2018 Winter Olympics, which NBC once again has the rights to. I think it’s likely NBC will offer some type of “Olympics Pass” so that non pay-TV subscribers can follow the action. This would be a logical move given how much TV Everywhere streaming already occurs. For NBC, it would be essentially the same online package, just charged directly to viewers, rather than being included in their pay-TV package.
As cord-cutting and cord-nevering inevitably accelerate in the years to come, sports networks and leagues are going to be under more pressure to innovate their revenue models. Temporary, sports-specific passes look like a pretty enticing opportunity. I think we’re going to see lots more of them going forward.
Topics: NBC Sports