NFL: Digital “superior” to TV

The NFL is creating a digitally delivered fan experience that will be “superior” to its own TV presentation and soon worth over $1 billion a year to the League, according to the executive in charge
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The NFL is creating a digitally delivered fan experience that will be “superior” to its own TV presentation and soon worth over $1 billion a year to the League, according to the executive in charge.

“There are a wealth of opportunities to create a superior product online which will make NFL digital far more potent than TV,” said Shannon Rutherford, director of digital media video operations, NFL. “We have 360-degree immersive video and virtual reality. We can personalise it. We can create our own content and we can distribute through multiple digital channels including social media.”

Keynoting BVE and the Streaming Forum, Rutherford said, “Our product will become a daily habit for our fans.”

With broadcast deals locked up with Fox, CBS and NBC until 2022 the NFL has recently dabbled in live streaming. Notably, it sold rights worth around $20 million to Yahoo! for exclusive rights to live stream an in season game from London last year.

All bets are off post-2022 with Rutherford hinting that OTT will form a central part of NFL strategy. “Digital rights expansion is crucial to the NFL's long term success,” he said.

Until then the sport has to find other ways to reach fans on digital platforms.

This includes NFL mobile; premium subscription product NFL Gamepass, which permits live streaming of all games internationally; and social media reach. In 2014 the NFL kicked off a series of original programming which was ramped up from four shows to ten shows in 2015.

“TV viewing has flatlined in the US since 2010 while digital consumption has gone through the roof,” he said. “The TV audience is also ageing. Younger audiences are more engaged. All of this puts a lot of pressure on ad revenue, and makes digital more attractive to reach key demographics. The question is: what does the NFL do about it?”

One way is NFL Now, a digital-only fan destination which is presented as a TV-like linear lean back experience with on-demand game highlights, studio shows and talent-led analysis.

Ironically, to create this with high production values, the NFL is reliant on broadcast kit like video switchers, routers and orchestration hubs.

“We are using a traditional broadcast mentality to create a linear experience using the same gear as broadcast itself but delivering it digitally and adding interactivity,” said Rutherford.

The digital team takes the same live linear feed as broadcast and clips into highlights in as near realtime as they can get.

“NFL is like a news organisation in that our highlights are perishable,” he said. “It's not going to be evergreen content so the primary use case is for fans who want to see what happened that day. The faster we can get it out the more opportunities we have to maximise revenue.”

There were some essential marks that Rutherford felt the League's digital operation had to hit when delivering live content.

“You have to have 100 per cent uptime while the game is playing. The stream should be smooth with no more than a one per cent buffer and the time to enter the stream should be less than a second.”

He added, “Success often means money so for us that means revenue over a billion dollars per year from digital delivery.”

Attaining that means ensuring that its digital ad inventory is always (100 per cent) fufilled, he said.

However, if the League is banking on taking control of creating and distributing its own content in house it has some way to go to match the staggering current TV deals worth at least $3 billion a year (2013 to 2022) cut with US broadcasters.

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