The streaming era received another participant when the NFL launched its new streaming subscription service on Monday.
And that means the era of free live games on your phone is over.
The new NFL+ functionally combines, replaces and renames NFL Game Pass and free live game streaming fans could previously access through Verizon/Yahoo, other mobile carriers and the league’s app, but it limits the regular and post-season games to streaming on phones and tablets while preventing them from being streamed to smart TVs or computers.
In other words, it caters more to mobile users. And while that’s not inherently a bad thing — especially in the context of the cord-cutting trend — it does mean NFL fans are left without their holy grail: a streaming service that literally carries every game. Whether something like this will ever happen remains to be seen.
Here’s an FAQ guide to what we know about NFL+ so far.
Why is the NFL rolling out this service?
The broadcast industry continues to undergo drastic changes in the way people consume content. While traditional linear television continues to make up the bulk of viewership, the number of American homes with cable or satellite television has grown from 110 million several years ago to approximately 70 million today. Many of those cord-cutting households have switched to streaming services as a replacement, so the NFL goes where its fans go. About 5% of NFL live game viewership is digital, and that number is expected to grow. Younger fans tend to stream more, so sports leagues try to reach that demo where it consumes content. Planning for NFL+ took several years, with league owners notified of the launch in March.
How much will NFL+ cost?
There are two price levels. The base tier is $4.99 per month or $39 for the year. The premium tier is $9.99 per month or $79 per year. There is a seven-day free trial.
What is the difference between the levels?
The cheapest tier gives you local and primetime regular season and postseason games live on your phone or tablet, out-of-market preseason games live on those devices or your TV , live game audio for all games, and ad-free access. to the NFL’s library of on-demand content, such as NFL movies and NFL Network programming.
The premium tier includes everything that had been NFL Game Pass, everything from the base NFL+ tier, plus Ad-Free Full and Condensed Game Replays (45 minutes) and Ad-Free All-22 (which is the fly-view bird video viewed by players and coaches). The condensed reruns date back to 2009.
Can I watch regular season and playoff games live on my TV through NFL+?
No. Live regular season and playoff games are only available on your phone or tablet. The service blocks streaming to a smart TV or laptop/computer. Only preseason games can be viewed live on your connected TV or computer via NFL+, as can replays.
The NFL itself currently only has phone and tablet streaming rights for live regular season and playoff games. The league’s 11-year, $113 billion media rights deals beginning this season include live game television rights for NFL broadcast partners.
So how do I watch live games on my huge, expensive living room TV?
As you always have: through your local or national TV shows through your cable or satellite provider and their authenticated streaming services, or through NFL Sunday Ticket for most out-of-market games.
Doesn’t that limit the usefulness of the new streaming service?
Yes. But the NFL has a complex ecosystem of broadcast and streaming rights with its various media partners, many of which offer their own paid streaming apps, so it’s no surprise. The league believes fans will pay for the mix of live games, replays, audio, library and practice content. “Now is the right time for us to bundle all of this into one larger product at a price that we think is attractive,” said David Jurenka, senior vice president of NFL Media, Told the Los Angeles Times.
Why shouldn’t I just subscribe to DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket?
You can, and its games are available on your devices and TV, but it’s $300 per season. It gives you all of the non-home Sunday games not shown locally by Fox or CBS affiliates in your market. It also does not show national matches during prime time on Thursdays, Sundays and Mondays. These broadcast rights belong to NFL Network, NBC and ESPN/ABC. Also at stake: AT&T, owner of DirecTV, is giving up Sunday Ticket and exclusive off-market rights after 28 years. Sunday Ticket after this season is set to become a streaming service, and Apple, Amazon, Disney and Google are all reportedly interested in buying its rights for what should be at least $2 billion. How this ultimately affects NFL+ is not yet known.
Could NFL Sunday Ticket come to live within the NFL+ service, perhaps as an even more expensive tier?
It’s a Wild West there, so that wouldn’t be all that shocking. It’s a time of experimentation by networks, streamers, tech giants and sports leagues. Perhaps the NFL is using the threat of putting Sunday Ticket on NFL+ as leverage to boost deals from Apple, Amazon and others, who will want Sunday Ticket as a tool to develop their own paid services.
Didn’t the NFL previously offer local market games for free through its app and Verizon customers through Yahoo Sports?
Yes. NFL+ replaces these free options. Last year, Yahoo owner Verizon did not renew its NFL mobile streaming rights it had held since 2010. The carrier, which relinquished NFL streaming exclusivity in 2017, opted instead to focus on technology and marketing under a new 10-year deal with the NFL, including building more robust 5G networks in stadiums. Its expiring non-exclusive streaming deal was for all NFL games except for out-of-market games aired on DirecTV. The streaming rights with Verizon were worth $400 million and could be worth more today if the NFL chooses to partner with another company.
Could the NFL+ possibly allow regular season and playoff games to be streamed live on my smart TV or computer?
It’s absolutely something the NFL could do, and maybe at some point, but there’s no timeline. Here’s what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told The Associated Press this week about NFL+: “We think it’s a big step forward. It will evolve, build and improve as more and more content becomes available on this platform. The work we’ve done with other offers or research has kind of helped us frame this in a way that we think would be very appealing and engage our fans.
Will the NFL+ be prone to outages?
No. But preseason home games in your local market won’t be available on the service if they’re being broadcast by Fox or CBS stations. The NFL allows teams to sell local television rights in the market for preseason home games, while regular season and playoff broadcast rights are sold nationally by the league.
Will all domestic games be available through NFL+?
Yes, but the above rules for tablets/phones and smart TVs apply.
Is it another app to download?
No. You access NFL+ through the NFL app or NFL.com.
How many fans should sign up?
The NFL hasn’t released any estimates, but with young sports fans consuming more and more live sports via streaming, that could be a fair amount soon.
What happens to NFL Game Pass?
NFL+ replaced him nationally. And if you were an NFL Game Pass subscriber — it was $100 a year — with auto-renewal turned on, you’re automatically onboarded to an NFL+ subscription.
What about international viewers?
The NFL Game Pass will live on for viewers outside of the United States.
How many Game Pass subscribers are there?
The NFL did not release any numbers.
Without the ability to stream games live to a smart TV, doesn’t that limit the number of potential NFL+ users?
True, but if the league is able to add smart TV live streaming, it will increase the user base. And because it’s the NFL’s own streaming service within its own app, the league has full control. Even if the user base is initially limited, the 11 billion NFL will be A-OK. This is a long-term play in the booming streaming market.
Will the NFL ever offer team-specific streaming like MLB does?
We hope. The NFL said it is still considering options and listening to fans, but it’s too early to tell if this will eventually lead to single-team streaming. If the league thinks it can take advantage of team-specific streaming, it will happen one day. MLB charges $74.99 per year for its MLB.TV single-team package through the MLB app which offers out-of-market games.
What will be the first game on NFL+?
The preseason Hall of Fame Game kicks off at 8 p.m. on August 4 between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Las Vegas Raiders of Canton, Ohio. It will also air live on NBC and its in-house streaming service Peacock.
What about latency?
This remains a problem for all streams, although efforts are being made to try to eliminate much of it. The Super Bowl reportedly had a lag of around 40 seconds for streamers due to latency issues. Video on demand, like Netflix and maybe the NFL content library on NFL+, is content that already exists on a server, so latency should be zero. Live streaming, on the other hand, is a near real-time transmission stream that is prone to technical issues. Some offset is built in to ensure a smooth flow. But that can be an annoyance for viewers who see social media updates before the action on their screen. If latency is an issue for NFL+, followers will quickly take to Twitter to complain.
Why is all this important?
NFL games are the gold standard of American television, accounting for 75 of the top 100 shows last year and attracting huge viewership – around 17 million per game – and gargantuan media rights deals.
(Photo: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)