Playoff game behind a Peacock paywall is a new frontier in NFL's embrace of streaming

The quarterback matchup between Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes isn’t the only major storyline going into their AFC wild card game

Joe Reedy
Friday 12 January 2024 01:59 GMT

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The quarterback matchup between Miami's Tua Tagovailoa and Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes isn't the only major storyline going into their AFC wild card game.

Another question is how many fans will pay to watch one of the NFL's important games of the season being carried exclusively on a streaming platform for the first time.

Saturday night's game will be shown on Peacock after NBCUniversal won the rights last May. The game will be broadcast on the NBC affiliates in Kansas City and Miami, following the NFL's protocol for Thursday night games streamed on Amazon Prime Video.

Everyone else will have to pay for a Peacock subscription — plans start at $5.99 per month — to watch the game, and some fans are less than thrilled about the NFL putting a playoff game behind a paywall for the first time.

According to various reports, NBCUniversal paid $110 million for the rights to the game.

“I mean, the NFL, which prints money — that’s got more money than God — they gotta make another $110 million for that stupid Peacock game,” commentator Chris Russo said on ESPN's “First Take” program. “Oh my God, that drove me crazy! That is being a pig! That’s what that’s being.

"So, the poor person who’s 75 years of age, who’s followed the Chiefs since (Hank) Stram and Len Dawson, has gotta figure out on his remote where to get the stupid game and pay for the streaming service to see a playoff game!”

Under the NFL’s contract, each of its four broadcast partners — NBC, CBS, Fox and ESPN/ABC — gets at least one wild-card game. Of the two remaining games, one rotates each year between NBC, CBS and Fox, while the other will likely be up for bid each year. That means Amazon or ESPN+ could eventually be in the running.

“We’re very focused and very committed on broadcast. For us, it’s not either/or, it’s both. We want to continue to broaden the distribution for our content,” said Hans Schroeder, the league’s executive vice president of media distribution. “We see the continued evolution in the media landscape, and we want to be where our fans are. We know they’re increasingly, especially younger fans, on different screens. So that’s why it’s important for us, not just for this game, but throughout the year, that we’re on these different digital platforms.”

ESPN started carrying NFL games in 1987, but it took 27 seasons before it aired its first playoff game. The league's embrace of streaming has been much faster.

Amazon Prime Video became the exclusive home of “Thursday Night Football” last season while ESPN has streamed one international game per season on ESPN+ since 2021.

Peacock had its first exclusive regular-season game when the Buffalo Bills visited the Los Angeles Chargers on Dec. 23.

All playoff games will also be available on mobile devices through the NFL+ package.

According to Prime Video, the median age of its audience was 48.5 years — 6.9 years younger than the median age of viewers watching the NFL on Sundays (55.4).

NBC Sports president Rick Cordella did not share expectations about the number of new Peacock subscribers the company is hoping to gain from streaming a playoff game. He said NBC's top priorities were making sure the production is top-notch and that its streaming technology can handle the influx of viewers.

“We’re in the big event business. We’ve streamed the Super Bowl in the past, World Cup, Olympics, WrestleMania, Premier League each weekend, ‘Sunday Night Football’ throughout the season,” Cordella said. “So, this is not new territory for us, and I have confidence that our product and tech teams will deliver a great experience for the viewers Saturday evening.”

Cordella and others at Peacock are also hoping to attract viewers beyond the playoff game.

“There’s a lot of content on Peacock. There’s a little misconception this is a pay-per-view for $6. The reality is you’re getting a lot of value for $6 beyond just Saturday night,” he said. “So, we look at Saturday night, the audience that came in for that, and what has that audience experienced a month down the road? This is not a success-failure Sunday morning. It’s down the road, did people behave how we thought they would behave once they get inside the platform?”

NBC will have three games during the first weekend of the postseason, the first time a network has had that many on a single playoff weekend. Cleveland at Houston will air on NBC Saturday at 4:30 p.m. EST. NBC also has the much-anticipated Sunday night matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and Detroit Lions.

Since the NFL went to a an expanded wild-card schedule in 2020, the late Saturday game has been the least viewed twice. Last year’s contest between the Los Angeles Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars averaged 20.61 million viewers.

This season’s 16-game package on Prime Video averaged averaged 11.86 million viewers according to Nielsen, a 24% increase over last year’s inaugural season. There were 12 games that averaged more than 10 million, doubling 2022.

The record for a streamed NFL game is 15.3 million for the Nov. 30 matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys on Prime Video. The Bills-Chargers game on Peacock averaged 7.3 million.

“As we think about it, we’re going to take a lot of learnings from it," Schroeder said. "Certainly, viewership will be one of them. That will be just one of the criteria we think about and look at the opportunities we have going forward.”



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