We all know by now that the Super Bowl is going to be streamed live by NBC, and also to Verizon Wireless smartphones via Verizon’s NFL Mobile app. It will be interesting to see what the viewer metrics are after the fact. But the bigger item on the horizon is who will snag the tablet, aka iPad rights for NFL broadcasts going forward?
I was thinking about this potential conflict earlier today when I read a report from my ex-GigaOM collegue Liz Gannes who was covering a talk with ESPN president John Skipper at the D: Dive Into Media conference. Skipper’s crew seems like it has clear vision on what the Worldwide Leader needs to do with mobile, which as we heard yesterday is the prime platform ESPN develops for.
Inside the industry ESPN is unique since it not only is a network, it is also a content creator as well as a clearinghouse for overall information. The latter is mainly SportsCenter, its enormously popular highlights show that dominates the sports world. But more recently ESPN has become a content creator/provider by bidding for broadcast rights to games themselves, across all major sports and a lot of minor ones too.
While finding broadcasts on TV is fairly easy — you just look up to see which network is broadcasting the game — on digital devices the access has been murky. Verizon does have an exclusive deal to show live games on phones, but that’s only covered Monday Night Football, Thursday night NFL Network games and the Sunday NBC games. ESPN, meanwhile, retains MNF rights for tablets but won’t show the games on phones because of Verizon’s deal. DirecTV Sunday Ticket customers this year could opt for a package that gave them access to the Sunday Ticket via mobile — an interesting twist but as a subset of a subset not really a mass-market solution.
The big question still out there is who will get tablet rights for NFL broadcasts going forward? Right now Verizon can’t offer NFL Mobile on an iPad, which would seem to be a bit of a no-brainer except it isn’t. The tablet market, aka iPad, is getting bigger every moment and it will be interesting to see how the tablet rights get broken out, or whether they are bundled into the overall broadcast rights for a hefty increase in fees. According to Liz’s report, ESPN won’t buy rights without all platforms included:
Since 2005, ESPN has made sure that all its content deals include rights for every device. As Skipper put it, “We don’t cannibalize ourself, we use those platforms to cross-promote.”
After several digital stops and starts ESPN seems to have crystalized its mobile thinking behind the WatchESPN idea, where you download an app and have access to all ESPN programming — so long as you also have a contract with a qualifying cable provider. This is a smart move because it keeps the people paying ESPN the big bucks happy, while giving the cable customers the kind of access that is commonplace for all other kinds of media.
Maybe sometime in the future ESPN will offer a non-cable-customer price to access all its content digitally, but for now it seems content to keep its window open only to those customers willing to pay.
Here’s the link to Liz’s story again. Good stuff, wish I was at that conference.