The NFL’s decision to give Peacock — the streaming service owned by NBCUniversal — an exclusive game raised eyebrows in Hollywood when it was announced last year.
The game itself raised some hackles from fans, frustrated that they would have to subscribe to a new service to watch the game (it is worth noting that in the local markets of the teams playing, Miami and Kansas City, the game aired on local NBC stations).
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And yet, to hear NBC tell it, the game between the Kansas City Chief and Miami Dolphins was an unabashed success. The game averaged 23 million viewers, according to Nielsen (not bad for a streaming service with about 30 million subscribers), and was actually up from the previous year’s wild card game on NBC.
It was a performance that had the NFL just as excited as its broadcast partner.
“We were thrilled,” says Hans Schroeder, the executive VP and COO of NFL Media, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s pretty remarkable that the first time we put a wild card game on Peacock it beats the same time slot, same broadcast partner the year before. That’s awesome, and I mean its a testament to how fans are changing and watching. It’s a testament to what Comcast did to really build awareness there.”
Comcast and NBCU, of course, paid a reported $110 million for the privilege of streaming the game, and as Schroeder noted, the company tried to put the game in a position to succeed by leveraging the NBC broadcast network: Yes, the game aired locally in south Florida and in Missouri and Kansas, but NBC also had a wild card game (Houston Texans-Cleveland Browns) that afternoon a a lead-in, and heavily, heavily heavily promoted the Peacock game that would follow it. The afternoon game averaged 29 million viewers.
“We still believe broadcast is the biggest and widest platform. And so these are perfect opportunities to still leverage that and have the widest reach that we can, but use that in a way to build some of the newer platforms, in this case Peacock,” Schroeder says, adding that the league will look for similar opportunities in coming years. “The good thing about the rapid sort of rate of change in the media landscape overall is it’s creating more choice and more opportunities, and we’re going to continue to be selective. We like to really make sure we’ve done our work upfront so that any new thing we’re going to do ,we give ourselves the best possible chance of success. And I think that’s what we’ll continue to do and push our partners to figure out where they see opportunities, and on this end continue to explore the ones that we see as well, in a way that hopefully is all additive.”
Schroeder says that as the season concludes and the league turns to next season “you’ll see even more opportunities come to the forefront.”
“Some may mean just doing digital exclusive games where we can, but you know, overall, I just keep in mind this is a very modest percent of our overall game inventory,” he adds. “The vast, vast majority — I think almost 90 percent of our games this year — were available nationally on broadcast television. So you know I don’t think you’ll see us do something revolutionary, I think this will just be the natural continued evolution of making sure our games given the the screens and the places and the platforms.”
But the league does think that there will be opportunities to grow streaming services, with Schroeder noting the league’s long history of growing the TV business.
“I think the NFL has a long history — and humbly so — of being able to take our great games and our great content and build platforms,” Schroeder says. “You could talk about what it did for for television overall and sports overall. You can talk about what it did for Fox broadcast network in ’94. You can talk about what it did to drive the adoption of HD in the early aughts. You can look at what it did for Sunday Ticket on a couple of different platforms. And I think we’ll continue to see that our content can make and drive platforms and you’re starting to see that on digital.”
As THR noted in a cover story last year, the NFL has embarked on a strategic effort to make its games as widely available as possible, while selectively releasing new inventory to bring in new partners (like YouTube for Sunday Ticket, or Amazon for Thursday Night Football).
And the league has sought out ways to get its games on new platforms while still keeping them on broadcast and linear TV. ESPN’s Monday Night Football, for example, added additional simulcasts on ABC, and Disney also tested out a stream on Disney+ with CG Toy Story characters representing the players.
“I don’t think it’s just you know, exclusive games, these platforms also provide opportunities to do things like our Toy Story game, which we were really excited about and creating a different animated version of the game for particularly younger fans to come in,” Schroeder says. “And that was distributed to over 95 countries around the world through Disney+, and was the first time getting NFL content onto Disney+, so those are all things we’re gonna be very focused on and continue to look at.”
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