Big Games Flowing in StreamsSports and TV officials tout online, out-of-market fare 8/23/2010 12:01:00 AM Eastern
first time this season, many National
Football League fans living in high-rise, multi-dwelling buildings will be able
to watch every bone-crushing tackle and game-winning touchdown through
DirecTV's popular NFL Sunday Ticket out-of-market live-game package. Instead of
running a coaxial cable from a roof-based satellite dish to their big-screen
TVs, though, these fans will hook up a high-speed modem to their laptop
The NFL Sunday Ticket broadband service is the latest attempt by the one
of the big four pro sports leagues to play in the live-game streaming arena, as
fans are finding more of their favorite sports events on the Web and on mobile
all-star roster of pro sports properties offering content to portable devices
includes nearly every slam dunk LeBron James will make as a Miami Heat star
through the National Basketball Association's NBA League Pass Broadband
package; virtually every live game during Major League Baseball's September
pennant races via the league's MLB.TV service; and all slap shots and goals
during the National Hockey League season as part of the league's NHL GameCenter
broadband speeds as well as more viewer-friendly mobile phones and portable devices like the iPad, league package distributors
say streaming live sports content provides fans with a viable and alternative
way of viewing their favorite sports games
beyond the traditional TV set.
league or any property, being able to give direct access, a terrific experience
and high streaming quality with the right applications inside the experience is
critically important to reach a tremendous
amount of displaced fans," says Perry Cooper, senior VP of digital media for
the NHL. "[Online streaming] is a great product to cater to that base and also
take advantage of what continues to be a classic media convergence."
professional leagues have made the majority of their games available to
consumers through cable- and satellite-based PPV and VOD out-of-market packages
for more than a decade. Only in the past few years have these games been made
available to fans via the Web.
streaming, [the leagues] are putting markers on various platforms with the
assumption that they will grow," says Lee Berke, president of sports
consultancy company LHB. "The bulk of viewers are still watching live sports
games on traditional linear platforms like cable and broadcast television, but
[streaming is] growing and eventually it's going to be a major percentage of how
people watch sports, so you have to make your presence felt now."
leagues' migration to the Web with their live sports products follows an
overall growth trend of sports fans accessing the Internet for sports
information. A record 81 million people in the U.S. on average visited sports
Websites each month in 2009, according to Nielsen Media Research.
sports events have attracted huge online audiences in 2010. ESPN3.com's
month-long coverage of the World Cup soccer tournament this past June and July
was viewed by 7.4 million unique viewers, with watchers generating 942 million
minutes of viewing during the tournament-more than two hours per unique viewer,
according to ESPN officials.
March Madness NCAA men's college basketball tournament drew a record 8.3
million unique viewers who watched 11.7 million hours of live hoops during the
tournament's three-week run, according to network officials.
17-day coverage of the 2010 Winter Olympics from Vancouver drew 46 million
unique viewers and 710 million page views, more than double the total for the
2006 Winter Games, say network officials.
looking at a scenario where people will continue to consume sports content
wherever they are," Berke says. "Everybody is anticipating that one or more of
these platforms is going to take off in a big way, but in the interim there's
audience growth to be had."
serve its NFL Sunday Ticket subscribers, DirecTV in 2007 began streaming live
NFL games as part of a premium upgrade to subscribers already purchasing its
$300 linear Sunday Ticket package, according to Alex Kaplan, senior director of
sports marketing at the top U.S. satellite provider. The $99 "supercast"
service generated "fairly significant" growth in subscriber usage for the
streaming package and delivered incremental revenue for DirecTV and the league,
Kaplan says, although he declined to reveal specific figures.
satellite service will expand its offering this season to include for the first
time consumers who can't receive DirecTV due to line-of-sight issues, including
those who live in high-rise buildings. It's unclear exactly how many potential
consumers this could add to the package's subscriber base, but it certainly represents
a major expansion for Sunday Ticket's broadband offerings, according to company
officials. Last year, the network conducted a trial offer for residents in
fairly small take rates last year [for the Manhattan trial] and we don't expect
to see it being a major revenue driver-it's just our desire to provide every
consumer the opportunity to follow their favorite team," Kaplan says. "But it's
a very small piece of the pie."
Not a substitute
broadband expansion, Kaplan still sees the new NFL Sunday Ticket To-Go as a
complement to its linear package and not a substitute for watching the package
on television. To illustrate that point, DirecTV has folded the broadband
service into the package's $300 price tag for new subscribers, which also
includes high-definition telecasts. For existing NFL Sunday Ticket subscribers,
the broadband service will cost $50.
"I think there is still room for growth for that percentage of Sunday
Ticket subscribers who will use the product on their computers, but our core
product is the linear television product," he says. "We certainly don't think
our mobile and online versions are going to take the place of that experience.
We see it is as a great supplement and enhancement to the existing product."
sports leagues like the NHL see the broadband package as more of a revenue
generator. Along with the live feeds, the online packages often provide more
features than traditional television. The NHL's $169 GameCenter Live online
game package provides fans with multiple camera angles for one game a night,
allows viewers to watch up to four games simultaneously, and offers access to
league-wide video highlights as well as repeats of all games throughout the
season, according to Cooper.
has experienced a 25% increase in subscription sales for the 2009-10 package
compared to last season, according to Cooper. "We've have terrific
season-over-season growth and we're at the beginning of the product life cycle,
so we think there's a lot of upside from a cross-channel perspective for our
out-of-market package," he says.
The NBA has
also garnered "significant" sales for its 2009-10 NBA League Pass Broadband
package, according to Bryan Perez, senior VP and general manager for NBA Digital,
although he would not reveal specific figures. The $149 package, which is
complimentary for purchasers of the $189 NBA League Pass television package,
allows viewers to watch three games simultaneously as well as repeats of any
game throughout the regular season.
requested feature of customers who subscribe to the television version is the
ability to watch when they travel, and that's what League Pass Broadband
serves," Perez says. "It's really a compliment to our existing television
product based on feedback we get from the consumer. But it's also a product for
people who may only want it when they travel-you can't take your plasma TV with
MLB Hits Home Run
Major League Baseball has been the most successful thus far in pitching its
online out-of-market package to consumers. MLB Advance Services' MLB.TV's
premium service generated more than 500,000 subscribers during the 2009 season,
according to the New York Times. That
number is expected to grow as the league has expanded the distribution of the
package to Sony's Playstation 3 gaming console as well as to Internet connected
set-top maker Roku.
The $129 MLB.TV
package allows subscribers to access every out-of-market regular season game as
well as the ability to watch three games at a time as well as jump to any half
inning of a live or on-demand game, according to the league.
say as broadband penetration continues to expand - currently more than 42% of
all households have a broadband connection, according to the NCTA - more sports
fans will flock to the web to view live pro sport telecasts.
everyone is cheering the emergence of broadband-based out-of-market sports
packages. "Anytime you talk about technologies that are going to take eyeballs
away from the settop box and the TV screen which is our bread and butter, it's
going to raise some red flags and be a concern," said Mark Boccardi, vice
president, programming & product development for In Demand, which
distributes the various pro league out-of-market packages to cable operators.
Boccardi said the NHL, NBA and MLB out of market packages continue to be
"consistently strong performers" for cable operators despite competition from
broadband and mobile sports packages. He added that in the end television still
provides a richer experience for the sports fans than viewing on a computer or
do I think there's strong opportunity for growth, I think the TV experience
continues to remain the best way to watch these out-of-market sports packages,"
he said. "Even with these other ancillary packages I believe there's still room
for growth on the television side."
NBA's Perez is also bullish on the revenue potential of streaming live content
to mobile phones and other portable devices such as Apple's iPad. With mobile
phones employing new and enhanced 4G technology, Perez said the potential
audience for the league's $39.99 stand-alone NBA League Pass Mobile product
launched last year is huge. The mobile package mirrors the same features as the
NBA broadband offering.
probably the biggest opportunity for us going forward," he said. "What mobile
allows you to do is watch not only when you travel but when you can't be in
your house. If you're at your kid's soccer game you don't have to miss any of
end, DirecTV will also offer a wireless phone and iPad app for its NFL Sunday
Ticket package this fall that will allow package subscribers to watch NFL
action on the portable device. "I think the tablet market will be particularly
viable for this type of content distribution just because the viewing
experience is so good," said Kaplan.
iPad app has already been a major hit with consumers. The $14.99 At Bat app,
which allows MLB.TV viewers to watch live games as well as
breaking news, schedules, interactive rosters and player stats for every team,
has already been downloaded 100,000 times since the iPad launched this past
April, according to tech business website Business Insider.com. On average,
about 40,000 people use the app on a daily basis, and from those daily users,
25% watch live games, according to the website.
Cooper said believes that the audience viewing NHL games on broadband, mobile
and other portable devices could soon rival that watching the league's NHL
Center Ice television offering. But the new media audience will add to rather
than cannibalize the traditional television package and grow the overall
audience for the product.
that there is a lot of runway for growth when it comes from fan activation across
all channels -- television included -- because our penetrations are nowhere
near what we think market demand is," Cooper said. "Everyone should feel good
about upside related to channel A,B,C or L -- we think there is a lot of upside
when you look at how many avid and displaced fans there are in the U.S."