Media Unleashed

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Big Changes Are Coming for Live Sports Viewership

By: Elizabeth Abate    April 29, 2021

Changes are on the horizon for the National Football League (NFL) with regards to how fans can tune in to watch games starting in 2023. Several leading digital streaming video services will be airing NFL games, including Amazon Prime, Peacock (NBC), Paramount+ (CBS), ESPN+ and FOX. Each network’s broadcast and streaming rights differ; for example, Amazon Prime will be the exclusive provider of Thursday Night Football. Currently, NFL is viewable mostly via broadcast, with games airing primarily on broadcast channels and cable channels. Because of this, NFL games are among the most viewed live broadcast programming in the United States. Also because of this, many cable subscribers have been reluctant to “cut the cord” or discontinue an expensive cable subscription, as they fear losing the ability to watch NFL games live.

For broadcast media buyers, live sports, including NFL games, represent a rare opportunity to reach a large audience, with minimal ad skipping. According to a 2020 study done by Morning Consult, 60% of U.S. adults enjoy watching American football on television in the U.S. Viewers tend to watch sports live rather than time-shift their viewing with digital video recorders. For fans, waiting until the next day to watch a recorded game and see whether the Browns have finally secured a win is not a common practice. As users shift to digital streaming platforms to tune in, it’s likely that broadcast ratings for NFL games will start to decrease. Secondarily, cable subscribers may see the new ability to stream live sports as a catalyst for unsubscribing, forcing cable’s reach to decline even further. The adoption of smart TVs, streaming devices, streaming services and other digital media is expected to continue to advance even further, with more users being comfortable utilizing the technology rather than relying on what is familiar (linear television).

While this may seem like a faraway glance into the future, August of 2023 is a mere 28 months away (at the time of this article’s publication). For comparison, this is as far forward as the New England Patriots winning the 2019 Super Bowl is to today (which for some seems like a very short time ago).