ViacomCBS Eyes Super Bowl LV as Major Paramount+ Marketing Tool

Ahead of Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7, in Tampa Bay, Fla., ViacomCBS is expanding the big game’s streaming reach across its digital properties. While the game will be broadcast on CBS Sports, it will also be available on CBSSports.com, CBS Sports app, in addition to Yahoo Sports, and ESPN digital properties.

The game, which will feature the first-ever female official (Down Judge Sarah Thomas), will also be live-streamed on CBS All Access, the SVOD platform that is rebranding to Paramount+ on March 4. As such, expect to see multiple tie-ins across ViacomCBS properties marketing the pending change, including AVOD platform Pluto TV.

Separate data from digital marketing agency Adtaxi found that 68% of survey respondents said they would forgo attending a Super Bowl party to watch the game at home alone.

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Last year’s Super Bowl LIV contest between the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers saw 3.4 million people live-stream the game per minute, which was 30% more than the 2.6 million per minute who live-streamed Super Bowl LIII in 2019; and 103% more than the 1.7 million per minute who live-streamed Super Bowl LI in 2017.

“We’re excited to broaden the availability of our Super Bowl LV stream this year, and we look forward to building on the incredibly strong momentum NFL football is driving on CBS All Access as a cornerstone of the extensive live sports offerings available on the service,” Jeff Gerttula, EVP and GM, CBS Sports Digital, said in a statement.

Regardless, the Super Bowl remains a broadcast TV mainstay. The annual broadcast remains the single-day highest rated TV program with more than 100 million people tuning in.

NFL Wildcard Weekend Broke Broadcast/Streaming Molds

The NFL’s just-concluded busy wildcard playoff weekend saw 12 teams reduced to eight advancing to the divisional round, beginning Jan. 16. Notably, for the first time playoff games were live-streamed (ESPN+, Peacock) and broadcast on a children’s network (Nickelodeon), in addition to the usual TV networks.

During the New Orleans Saints’ win over the Chicago Bears, Nickelodeon viewers got see trademark green slime sprayed virtually into the end zone and across the screen after Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas scored a touchdown. The game drew Nickelodeon’s largest audience in four years with 2 million viewers.

While the simulcast with CBS Sports underscored ViacomCBS’s desire to involve its brands (Nickelodeon) across new markets, for the NFL, the game represented an opportunity to reach a new demo early.

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“Our entire model is based on reach,” Hans Schroeder, EVP and COO of NFL Media, said in an interview Sunday night. “The positive responses have been overwhelming [for the Nickelodeon game], but what we did with CBS was a continuation of what we did across Sunday.”

On Disney-owned ESPN+, streamers saw analytics on steroids with an individual play’s likelihood of succeeding put on display. Indeed, an interception thrown by Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson only had only a 28% chance of being caught by the receiver initially.

Amazon Prime Video and sister company Twitch were the first streaming platforms to offer live NFL coverage through “Thursday Night Football,” featuring the sport’s first female broadcast team.

“When you have as broad appeal as we’re fortunate to have, we want to make sure we’re putting out a broad set of experiences on as many screens as we can, and increase the way our fans engage and enjoy the games,” Schroeder said.

Indeed, ESPN will feature tonight NCAA College Football National Championship Game between The Ohio State Buckeyes and University of Alabama Crimson Tide across 14 separate broadcasts, including streaming.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals vs. S.F. 49ers Most-Exclusively Streamed Football Game

The Dec. 26 NFL game between the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals was the first professional regular season football game to be exclusively streamed online without a national broadcast. The week 15 matchup was viewed in part by 11.2 million people, including 4.8 million “average minute audience” on Amazon Prime Video and Twitch — a record for an NFL game. The game was also broadcast locally in San Francisco and Phoenix — upping the “average minute audience” to 5.9 million.

Notably, the NFL said that viewers streamed more than 800 million combined minutes of the game, which would rank it among Nielsen’s weekly Top 10 streaming content chart tracking Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu and Disney+.

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Prime Video is the current streaming partner for “NFL Thursday Night Football,” which is broadcast nationally by Fox Sports.

 

Amazon Prime Video to Stream Its First NFL Postseason Game

Amazon Prime Video has reportedly acquired streaming rights to the National Football League’s second-day wild card round on Jan. 10, 2021. The postseason game is a first for Prime Video — and not exclusive. The Prime streaming video service will share the NFC/AFC matchups with CBS broadcast network (and CBS All Access) and Nickelodeon.

Amazon earlier this year renewed its rights to stream 11 NFL Thursday Night Football games for a reported $75 million. Amazon began live-streaming TNF games in 2017 on Prime Video and Twitch, hosted by the first all-female announcing team featuring Hannah Storm and Andrea Kremer.

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The wild card round rights cost Amazon significantly more than TNF, according to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the deal, citing league sources. NBCUniversal’s Peacock SVOD platform will live-stream a second wild card playoff game.

Google-owned YouTube TV last year became the first digital platform to live-stream Major League Baseball postseason and World Series games. YouTube also acquired rights to live-stream 13 regular season games free (with ads) for viewers to watch in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. MLB has been streaming games on its MLB.tv platform since 2002, beginning first with audio only.

Despite some off-field controversies, the NFL remains a ratings winner, snagging 18 of the Top 20 most-watched telecasts since Sept. 10. The other two top-ranked programs: the presidential and vice-presidential debates.

 

NFL Says It Now Supports Peaceful Social Justice Protest

In a surprise move, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell late June 5 said the league now fully supports players voicing their concerns about social injustice and police brutality — a stance the NFL decidedly avoided in recent years, especially during the early days of the Trump Administration.

In a video posted on social media, Goodell, without naming any players (i.e. former San Francisco 49er QB Colin Kaepernick, who in 2016 kneeled during the national anthem), said the NFL was wrong for ignoring previous protests about social injustice.

“We, the National Football League condemn racism and systematic oppression of black people,” Goodell said on the video. “We, the National Football League admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier, and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League believe black lives matter.”

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The admission comes 12 days after an unarmed black man (George Floyd) was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day. With the killing spurring violent protests across the country, and the fact African-American players comprise 70% of its on-field talent, the NFL, like many industries, has taken proactive steps to project an air of social and racial awareness.

That stance took a hit this week when rookie Buffalo Bills QB and former University of Georgia standout Jake Fromm was forced to apologize for racist comments he made in personal messaging that was leaked online.

Then veteran New Orleans QB Drew Brees, a fixture in NFL marketing, told a Yahoo Finance interview that he did not support anyone disrespecting the American flag. Kaepernick’s protests had been usurped by conservatives and President Trump, who claimed by kneeling the QB was dissing the flag, military, veterans and country.

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“I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country,” Brees told Yahoo.

Brees quickly apologized twice for his comments, saying he couldn’t imagine the hurt and anguish he had caused black teammates, fans and the city of New Orleans.

“[My comments] lacked awareness and any type of compassion or empathy,” Brees wrote on Instagram. “Instead, those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character.”

Trump June 5 weighed in on the matter angrily tweeting that Brees should not have to apologize for his position on the flag.

“I am a big fan of Drew Brees. I think he’s truly one of the greatest quarterbacks, but he should not have taken back his original stance on honoring our magnificent American Flag,” Trump tweeted. “OLD GLORY is to be revered, cherished, and flown high. We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart. There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag — NO KNEELING!”

Brees responded, saying he vowed to be an “ally” for black people and social justice.

“Through my ongoing conversations with friends, teammates, and leaders in the black community, I realize this is not an issue about the American flag. It has never been,” Brees wrote. “We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from the real issues that face our black communities.

“We did this back in 2017, and regretfully I brought it back with my comments this week. We must stop talking about the flag and shift our attention to the real issues of systemic racial injustice, economic oppression, police brutality, and judicial & prison reform. We are at a critical juncture in our nation’s history! If not now, then when?

“We as a white community need to listen and learn from the pain and suffering of our black communities. We must acknowledge the problems, identify the solutions, and then put this into action. The black community cannot do it alone. This will require all of us.”

The NFL has pledged $20 million in financial support to organizations fighting for social justice and racial equality.

National Football League, Amazon Expand Streaming Deal

The National Football League and Amazon April 29 announced a new multiyear agreement to live-stream “NFL Thursday Night Football” to a global audience across myriad compatible devices.

The deal also includes Amazon’s rights to stream one regular season game globally on Prime Video and Twitch, which will be played on a Saturday in the second half of the 2020 NFL regular season. The game will also be televised in the participating teams’ home markets.

Financial details were not disclosed but media reports say it exceeded the previous $65 million annual deal. The NFL and Amazon first partnered to distribute Thursday Night Football during the 2017 season.

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Amazon Prime Video and Twitch will stream 11 Thursday Night Football games broadcast by Fox, which will be available to more than 150 million Prime members worldwide, and in more than 200 countries and territories on the Prime Video and Twitch sites and apps across connected living room devices, mobile phones, tablets and PCs.

All Thursday Night Football games will also be distributed in Spanish on Fox Deportes and are expected to be simulcast on NFL Network, continuing the league’s “tri-cast” model of broadcast, cable and digital distribution.

“As our relationship has expanded, Amazon has become a trusted and valued partner of the NFL,” Brian Rolapp, chief media and business officer for the NFL, said in a statement. “Extending this partnership around ‘Thursday Night Football’ continues our critical mission of delivering NFL games to as many fans in as many ways as possible both in the United States and around the world.”

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Thursday Night Football on Prime Video and Twitch will continue to offer interactive features like X-Ray and Next Gen Stats powered by AWS. On Prime Video, members can choose to watch the Fox broadcast, the Fox Deportes Spanish language coverage, and from multiple alternative audio options exclusive to Prime Video.

There was no mention whether Prime Video will continue offering play-by-play commentary/analysis option from Hannah Storm and Andrea Kremer — the first all-female NFL announcing team.

In 2019, Thursday Night Football delivered an average audience of 15.4 million viewers, including Fox, NFL Network, Fox Deportes, NFL digital, Fox Sports digital, Prime Video, Twitch, and Verizon Media mobile properties — up +4% versus the 2018 Thursday Night Football season average (14.9 million).

Digital streaming across Prime Video, Twitch, NFL digital, Fox Sports digital and Verizon Media mobile properties in 2019 surpassed an average minute audience of over 1.0 million — up +43% versus the previous year (729,000).

This multiyear renewal also features the Emmy-winning Amazon Original “All or Nothing.” Produced by NFL Films, season five of the sports documentary series premiered on Friday, Feb. 7 with “All or Nothing: The Philadelphia Eagles,” available exclusively on Prime Video. Additionally, since 2017, the NFL has utilized Amazon Web Services as its official cloud and machine learning provider for the Next Gen Stats platform, which provides real-time location data, speed, and acceleration for every player during every play on every inch of the field.

NFL Holding 2020 Draft From Commissioner’s Home Basement

In a switch, there will be live sports tonight (8 p.m. ET) on broadcast television and streaming showcasing the 2020 NFL Draft from the basement of commissioner Roger Goodell’s home in Westchester County, New York.

The annual media event takes on special meaning this year with the world of sports still on hiatus due to the spread of the coronavirus shuttering all sports venues worldwide.

The Draft is typically hosted in a major city with all top college football players in attendance in a party-like setting. Due to the virus, social distancing and travel restrictions, Goodell, with the help of three technicians, will be switching between 200 remote video locations nationwide in players’ homes.

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“It will be a way to socialize and bring people together, and that’s what the NFL does,” Goodell told “Good Morning America.” “I think we’ll be able to bring a great deal of optimism, not just to our fans but to the fact that business is continuing to go forward and operations are going forward. This is a really important event to our clubs and helping finalize our rosters and get ready for a season. So this is really important for us to do it right, and doing it from home and doing it within regulations with no exemptions.”

Goodell said the league has factored in the current quarantine restrictions around offseason activities, allowing for virtual workouts and training among the NFL’s 32 teams.

Teams can hold voluntary classroom instruction, workouts and non-football educational programs using online platforms, according to a league memo reported by The Associated Press. The league’s offseason program concludes June 26.

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“Whatever we do is going to be in compliance with the governing rules of the particular state and it’s going to be consistent with good and recommended medical health practices,” Jeff Pash, lead counsel with the NFL, told Time. “We’re going to do it in a way that preserves competitive equity and doesn’t expose anyone to risks that the medical profession says people shouldn’t be exposed to. We’re going to rely on that kind of guidance.”

Goodell said he’s learned it is impossible to predict the future during a pandemic.

“Our job is to be ready. We obviously will be ready to make alternatives, we’re going to put public safety No. 1.” he said.

The Draft will be live-streamed as a fundraiser for COVID-19 relief efforts featuring Rich Eisen, Deion Sanders and special guest Kevin Hart, among others. Viewers can stream the event through Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, and the YouTube NFL Channel.

NFL, 2K Ink Non-Simulation Video Game Deal

The National Football League and video game publisher Take-Two Interactive (2K) March 10 announced a multiyear partnership encompassing multiple future video games. The partnership marks the return of football-themed games to 2K’s portfolio of sports titles, as well as an expansion of video game properties for the NFL. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Notably, the games will be non-simulation with specific titles, developers and release dates to be announced at a later date, 2K confirmed the projects are in early development and will launch starting in calendar year 2021, during Take-Two’s fiscal year 2022.

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Novato, Calif.-based 2K previously published the NFL 2K franchise, which ran from 1999 to 2004. Other 2K-published games include the NBA video game simulation series, NBA 2K, as well as WWE 2K, The Golf Club 2019 Featuring PGA Tour, Borderlands, BioShock, Mafia, Sid Meier’s Civilization and XCOM.

“We’re thrilled to be back in business with the NFL in a partnership that will span multiple video games centered on fun, approachable and social experiences,” David Ismailer, president of 2K, said in a statement.

Yet, simulation-themed titles have been the singular driver of sports-themed video games. A reality rival Electronic Arts (EA) was quick to point out.

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“EA SPORTS is the exclusive publisher of NFL simulation games, and our partnership with the NFL and NFLPA remains unchanged,” the company said in a statement.

EA reiterated that its near 30-year agreement with the NFL is non-exclusive when it comes to non-simulation games. Indeed, EA Sports’ Madden NFL 20 is the most successful game ever in the franchise, and new modes like Superstar KO and Madden NFL e-Sports broadcasts.

For the NFL, the 2K deal is about expanding the next-generation user base for branded games that are not directly linked to simulated on-field action.

“Expanding the NFL’s presence in the world of gaming has become a focus for the League … and reviving our partnership with 2K was a natural step in that effort,” said Joe Ruggiero, SVP of consumer products at the NFL.

Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, believes Take-Two’s NFL games will have “extremely low potential” to generate significant revenue, and are more analogous to a game like Glu Mobile’s Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, a lifestyle-themed title averaging under $100 million annually on mobile.

“Take-Two may craft a compelling lifestyle game based on the NFL, but we think such an effort is unlikely to challenge video game fans sufficiently to generate meaningful revenues,” Pachter wrote in a note. “Because the agreement specifically excludes football simulation games, we don’t see any of Take-Two’s games meaningfully impacting EA’s sales of its Madden NFL simulation game.”

 

XFL 2020 Season to Stream Abroad on ESPN Player

The Xtreme Football League (XFL), established in 2001 for one season only by WWE founder Vince McMahon, is slated to return with a 10-game regular season Feb. 8, 2020, on ABC and Fox.

Disney-owned ESPN announced it would stream the entire XFL season on its ESPN Player, the standalone service only available outside the United States.

The eight-team league is divided into two four-team divisions (East and West). The XFL East features the DC Defenders, New York Guardians, St. Louis Battle Hawks and Tampa Bay Vipers. The Dallas Renegades, Houston Roughnecks, Los Angeles Wildcats and Seattle Dragons comprise the XFL West.

While the league will likely field NFL rejects and wannabes, former marquee players such as ex-Super Bowl QB Colin Kaepernick have reportedly met with the league.

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McMahon has made it clear players in the XFL would not be permitted to kneel during the national anthem, the protest act that contributed to Kaepernick being blacklisted from the NFL.

Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick kneeling during a San Francisco 49ers game.

“People don’t want social and political issues coming into play when they are trying to be entertained,” McMahon said in a press interview last year. “We want someone who wants to take a knee to do their version of that on their personal time.”

Both Kaepernick and fellow protester Eric Reid — who repeatedly kneeled during playing of the anthem as protest regarding alleged police brutality toward African American men — settled their grievances against the NFL last year.

Notably, ESPN Player is also streaming  “This Was the XFL,” ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary on the upstart league’s promising but short existence 18 years ago. The doc looks at how the league impacted how professional team sports are broadcast today.

Streaming Video Becoming New Normal, Especially for NFL Fans

The time people spent streaming video continues to climb — up 53% in the quarter (ended Sept. 30) as consumers embrace on-demand videos (63% of all streaming viewing is on demand) on their TVs, PCs and mobile devices, according to new data from Conviva.

“Streaming is quickly becoming the new normal,” Bill Demas, CEO of Conviva, said in a statement. “This is an industry undergoing massive growth, and what happens in the next 18 months will shape what, how and when we watch content in the future.”

Report data was primarily collected from Conviva’s proprietary sensor technology currently embedded in three billion streaming video applications, measuring in excess of a 100 billion streams per year and a trillion real-time transactions per day across more than 180 countries.

Conviva attributed the increase in streaming video consumption due in part to reduced video start failures (down 10%), 6% faster start times, 33% less buffering and the picture quality (bitrate) is 3% better.

PCs saw the most consistent quality improvements year over year with 17% fewer video start failures, 23% faster video start times and 26% less buffering. Mobile saw big improvements in reducing buffering — down 34% year over year — but video start times were only down 4% and video start failures were down only 2%.

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Meanwhile, improvements in overall video quality did not extend to streaming ads. According to the data, 39.6% of all streaming ad attempts failed in the quarter. In addition, ads were plagued by delays including long start times and buffering including instances where it took up to 16.1 seconds for an ad to start and viewers had to endure up to 45.9% of ad buffering.

As a result, roughly 9% to 20% of viewers drop off each time an ad is run. For sports, the largest impact is at the very first ad where 18% of viewers drop, but subsequent ads have less effect.

The fourth ad in a stream triggers the biggest drop as 20% of news viewers, 17% of drama/comedy viewers, and 16% of reality TV viewers stop watching. Overall, 54% of the audience stopped viewing after four ads.

NFL Streaming Skyrockets

NFL viewers continued their mass migration to streaming, with a 77% increase in streaming plays and a 50% increase in time spent streaming compared with Q3 2018. Much of the NFL’s streaming growth occurred on mobile devices, which grew 109% in plays year over year, and TV, which grew 66%. Notably, NFL streaming plays on PCs went down 11% in Q3.

While mobile NFL viewing is up, the minutes per play remains small (8 minutes), inferring that fans are streaming NFL on their phones to check in on their favorite teams versus to watch games in their entirety. Those fans streaming the NFL via TV or PC watched for an average of 24 and 22 minutes, respectively.

NFL fans are also embracing streaming videos on social media, but their appetite varies by team and platform.

Miami Dolphins fans watch more of their franchise’s videos than any other team on Facebook (168% above average) closely followed by Kansas City Chiefs fans (157% above average). New York Giants fans would rather watch videos posted by their franchise on YouTube (211% above average) and New England Patriots fans are loyal to watching team videos on Instagram (227% above average).

The connected TV category once again led all other devices in growth, up 58% in viewing hours year over year compared to PCs (up 36%) and mobile (up 33%).

While Roku maintained the top position by ending the quarter with solid 44% of market share, its growth rate for viewing time (73%) was slightly lower than Amazon Fire TV (78%). Amazon Fire TV closed the quarter with 20% of market share, followed by Apple TV with 9%.

Roku also improved its quality over the past year and now delivers the lowest rate of video start failures at 0.18%, down 52% from the previous-year 2018, and nearly three times as much improvement as Amazon Fire TV which dropped 17% to 0.37%.

Xbox again has the least buffering at a mere 0.15%, while Apple TV is the most improved with buffering down 40%. Once again Apple TV has the fastest video start time at 2.6 seconds and highest picture quality at 6.8 Mbps on average.

Year-over-year comparisons were normalized at the customer level for accurate representations of industry growth. The advertising data included in the report is based on an analysis of nearly 10 billion ad attempts in Q3. The social media data included in the report is based on an analysis of more than 100,000 social posts and 2.5 billion social video views across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram.