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NBC Sports Scores A Touchdown With The Rights To Livestream The Super Bowl

Touchdown (photo credit: bionicteaching/flickr)In what may mark a significant breakthrough and “validation” of the Internet television age, NBC announced today that the National Football League (NFL), has granted them rights to broadcast the post-season games, all leading up to the granddaddy of them all, Super Bowl XLVI. Surely lots of football games are being streamed online on the NFL’s website, but never has television’s biggest attraction, been shown online, potentially attracting millions more to NBC’s new sports site: NBCSports.com. This is most definitely a boon to the NFL and NBC while also providing some validation to the  “cord cutters” who are being hounded by cable companies.

If you don’t think that there’s no future in having television, video, and movies on the Internet, then you’re sorely mistaken, because there’s a growing movement to cut all ties with cable and instead get it all through the Internet. Perhaps it’s one of financial necessity — people probably don’t see a need to pay the cable companies more money for the triple play package anymore. Instead, they’re perfectly fine paying for a cable modem and watching shows on their laptops or computers for free — and if they want, they can use hardware like the Apple TV, Boxee Box, Roku, or a laptop to connect to their television to have it on a bigger screen. Oh, and to top it all off? Just go to a retail store these days, and you’ll be able to pick up a “Smart TV” that’ll let you hook up the Internet right to your television and instantly you’ll have access to great services like Netflix, Pandora, Hulu Plus, and more! And there’s an audience already…why, just today, YouTube announced that in 2011 alone, over one trillion videos were viewed! So at the very least, that’s got to be saying something…right?

eMarketer - Internet television statistics 2008-2011No? Well how about the research done by eMarketer.com that says in the United States, 33% of adult Internet users watch full-length television episodes online? As you can see in the chart here, the number of Americans surveyed has steadily increased over the past four years. Why, in 2011 alone, we’re already expecting about 72.2 million people to watch full-length shows online. So why should that stop sporting events like the Super Bowl from joining this trend? There’s a huge market for them to dive right into, and for the Super Bowl who saw last year’s game watched by a record US audience of 111 million viewers, there’s a high potential for millions more to participate.

Could I be wrong? Maybe, but I think that by opening up the Super Bowl across multiple mediums and making it as accessible as possible is a wise move for the network and NFL to do. Not only will it be livestreamed, but NBC has said that the broadcast of wild card Saturday, the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl will be available through both the NFL and NBC websites and also through Verizon’s NFL mobile app. Some might say that it’s not going to be that significant of a thing…take this blog post on StreamingMediaBlog.com by Dan Rayburn, principal analyst at Frost & Sullivan and EVP at StreamingMedia.com, for example:

Since most people want to watch the Super Bowl on TV, I don’t expect the traffic for the Super Bowl webcast to break any records. NBC has said that they average around 250,000 viewers for their SNF games, although that’s probably total viewers, not simultaneous streams and the TV broadcast for Sunday Night Football averages more than 21M viewers. So NBC hasn’t seen any evidence that online streaming of SNF has any kind of negative impact on TV viewership. Adding the Super Bowl as a live stream makes a lot of sense and I suspect NBC will also sell online only ads during the game, so there’s also the ad monetization angle for NBC to try and cover their costs from streaming.

Compete traffic for NBCSports.com and NFL.com

And Mr. Rayburn is probably right, but what this could result in is more motivation for sporting events to make themselves available to Internet streaming instead of broadcast rights. Imagine soon being able to access the Olympics in real-time right from your laptop or tablet. Or what about the World Cup?

Maybe we’re looking at this the wrong way? Maybe instead of looking it at NBC’s Sunday Night Football broadcasts, we need to be looking at the industry’s bigger picture: how can non-traditional television help increase viewership of the NFL? I mean, Major League Baseball has done it over the past years. And as recent as 2009, MLB has seen its subscription base jump to 400,000 subscribers who have streamed over 127 million streams (136% more than in 2008). So the fact that it’s available may make a bit more difference for the millions of people who have to work. And what about those people in countries where the Super Bowl isn’t broadcast in? The Internet will bring the game to them and with it, the chance for many more ad impressions.

But what about those famous advertisements that everyone looks forward to during the Super Bowl? Will livestreaming the game offer NBC and the NFL an incentive to charge more for the advertisements because of the potential for increased viewership? Or will they decide to make it a tiered approach and get new advertisers to pay for exclusive online commercials only? Play the cards right and NBC and the NFL could turn this into a larger opportunity and build a better community.

Until then, let’s count it down until kick-off…regardless of how you’re watching it, the post-season will be a well-watched and accessible one.

Photo credit: bionicteaching/flickr