For the first time, the NFL has reached a deal to live-stream a regular-season game, for free, to a worldwide audience. Score one for the cord-cutters.
Now the bad news: It’s the Bills vs. the Jaguars. In London. At 9:30 a.m. Eastern.
It’s hard to imagine a less appealing matchup than this midseason clash between nondivisional nonrivals from small markets who haven’t made the playoffs in years.
And yet Yahoo paid at least $10 million for the rights, according to an anonymous source in a CNN Money report. (Re/Code’s Peter Kafka hears at least $20 million.) Yahoo will make the game available on both the Web and mobile devices, with no login or cable subscription required. Google and several other companies were reportedly involved in the bidding.
The idea of a tech company live-streaming NFL games has been rumored since at least 2013, when Google reportedly met with league executives about showing them on YouTube. On one level it makes a lot of sense: There are a lot of games each weekend that people would love to watch but can’t, because they aren’t being broadcast in their market. (I write this as a New York City resident who has no interest in either the Giants or the Jets.)
The obstacle is that TV networks pay huge sums for exclusive broadcast rights. The value of those telecasts would be diminished if viewers had the choice to watch out-of-market games for free online. No wonder the NFL started with an “experimental” online broadcast of a game the networks probably weren’t clamoring for anyway.
One other obstacle: live-streams of big games are often really bad.
Even so, this is a milestone in the history of televised sports, which have largely been off limits to cord-cutters. And it’s a big deal for Yahoo, which has always been as much a media company as a tech company. Even if it loses money on the game itself, the move will draw viewer and advertiser attention to its online video offerings, which the company sees as a key to its future. I’m a little surprised Google didn’t outbid Yahoo simply as a defensive maneuver: YouTube’s dominance in online video is looking less secure all the time.
Previously in Slate: