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How Will Live Streaming Affect This NFL Season?

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Changes in the live streaming industry continue to reverberate everywhere, changing the way we think about entertainment, news and sports. Perhaps the best place to see this dynamic at work is with the NFL, which is continually looking for ways to widen its fan base and provide a superior viewing experience via live streaming.

The days are long gone when the only way you could catch an NFL game was by tuning into broadcast TV at a certain time. Once Monday Night Football moved to ESPN, it meant that you seriously had to consider cable TV. And as live streaming became popular, it meant that streaming services such as Sling TV became very relevant for football fans who wanted to pay the minimum possible and still get their NFL action. And in 2016, the NFL changed the game even further, by streaming Thursday Night Football games on Twitter.

So there are clearly a lot of changes happening right now with how the NFL delivers its action to fans. Here’s what to watch out for in the 2017 NFL season in terms of live streaming.

#1: New Live Streaming Partners

During the first week of April, the NFL announced that Amazon.com – not Twitter – would become the new live streaming partner for Thursday Night Football. Amazon hasn’t released much about what its live streaming option will include, only that it will only be available for Amazon Prime members.

Tying the live stream to Amazon Prime membership makes sense – after all, Amazon reportedly paid $50 million for the right to live stream a whopping total of 10 games! It’s easy to do the math – that’s $5 million per game. Assuming that the cost of Amazon Prime membership will be $99 per year, it looks like Amazon will need to sign up 50,000 new Amazon Prime members each week to make this deal work!

Most likely, Amazon will include the live NFL action as another reason to buy new Amazon Fire streaming sticks. Last season all you needed was a Twitter account to get live NFL action: this year you will need some kind of hardware to stream the game to your TV.

#2: A More Fragmented Viewing Experience

In addition to Amazon, there are now at least three other ways to stream NFL action without having cable TV: Sling TV, Playstation Vue and NFL Game Pass. If you have cable TV and a tablet or smartphone, then you can stream the games on mobile apps from NBC, Fox, ESPN and NFL Network.

But here’s the thing: it might take a combination of several different streaming services to get exactly the right mix of games. Last season, for example, Sunday games were available on CBS and Fox, Sunday night games were on NBC, Monday night games were on ESPN, and Thursday Night Football games were on CBS, NBC or NFL Network (depending on the week).

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Confused yet?

So, let’s say you’ve cut the cord with cable and are using Sling TV to get your TV content. You would need Sling Blue to get NFL Network, and you would need Sling Orange to get ESPN. So you would need Sling Orange and Blue to get all the games on Sunday and Monday.

Oh, but wait, there’s just one problem with that strategy – local Fox and NBC streaming feeds are not available in all markets with Sling TV, so that means you might still have no way to watch Sunday Night Football (on NBC) or Sunday games (on Fox). And when Thursday Night Football was on NBC, you’d have to watch it via Amazon!

So you can see why watching football is going to be a very fragmented experience for anyone who doesn’t have cable TV. By the time you combine all the necessary services (like $99 for Amazon Prime!), maybe it’s just easier to sign up for cable TV and stop trying to patch together a lot of different streaming options!

#3: New Types of Screen Experiences

The big allure of signing up Twitter last season was that the NFL could tap into a vast new audience of social media users who might not otherwise watch football. If all your friends are tweeting about the game, then it might encourage you to tune in as well. The single best ad for the NFL, theoretically, is a Twitter feed that fills up with NFL-related tweets.

In theory, Twitter + NFL should have meant even more of a “second screen experience.” In other words, people would be watching the game on TV while sending out funny tweets on their tablet. But maybe that’s not what the NFL really wants. Maybe it’s better for the NFL if all the social interaction actually occurs on the TV screen.

Moreover, a lot of users complained about the Twitter experience last year. One big #fail was the fact that there was a 15-to-30 second delay between the linear broadcast and the live stream. That means people on Twitter were sometimes sending out tweets about what just happened 30 seconds before you saw it yourself! You’d be watching your team, huddled down near its own end zone, and people on Twitter would be talking about some amazing play. And then – boom! – the star player on your team streaks down the sideline for an 80-yard touchdown. So that’s what they were just tweeting about!

One type of new screen experience that people are talking about this year is better integration of stats, scores and fantasy football information right on your screen. Thus, say the quarterback on your fantasy football team just threw a touchdown – instead of checking on your mobile app to see how that play  changed your fantasy football score, you’d see it right on the screen.

The key here is that people prefer to watch NFL on the big screen. That’s why people go to bars to watch games – the screen is bigger than the one at home. That’s why the guy or girl with the biggest TV screen always hosts the Super Bowl party – you want to be able to see all the action on a huge HD or 4K screen!

So, looking ahead to the 2017 season, there’s a lot to keep in mind about live streaming. Once Amazon announces how it plans to deliver Thursday Night Football action, you can start plotting out the ultimate live streaming experience if you don’t have cable TV. And, even if you do have cable, you’ll want to check out whether you will need to upgrade to a higher tier to catch all the action on NFL Network or NFL RedZone.

This might just be the season where Sling TV and Playstation Vue find themselves dealing with mass defections of NFL fans, who are starting to realize that the “skinny bundle” popularized by these streaming services might not deliver all the hard-hitting football action they want every Sunday, Monday and Thursday. Now that the big streaming players have shown that NFL action can be a premium offering, it’s going to be interesting to see what changes they make in the live streaming market.

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