LOS ANGELES — The National Football League, the undisputed king of TV entertainment, has reached a deal to make CBS the second broadcast partner for its Thursday Night Football slate of games. It also plans to reveal a digital partner for over-the-top streaming soon, the league said Monday.
As part of the deal, the broadcast slate of games will be increased to 10 — split between CBS and NBC — from eight in 2014 and 2015, when CBS first reached an agreement to broadcast Thursday night games. All broadcast games will continue to be simulcast on NFL Network, the league-owned cable channel. The NFL Network will also exclusively show eight games airing on Thursdays, Saturdays (once college football ends) and potentially other days. CBS will show the first half of broadcast games and NBC will take the second half. CBS paid $300 million for last season’s Thursday night broadcast rights, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The NFL also announced it is in discussions with digital partners to stream the Thursday night games, which would create another source of revenue. Yahoo paid an estimated $20 million last year for the TV rights to the matchup between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills in London, the first time a technology company was given exclusive broadcast rights to an NFL game. The game was streamed live, for free, around the world and was available only on traditional television in the two cities’ home markets. More than 15 million people saw the stream — with about a third of the audience being international — which encouraged the NFL to move forward with streaming rights. However, unlike the Yahoo game, the Thursday night streams will not be the only (legal) way to watch the games. There's also the fact that Verizon has exclusive mobile rights to the NFL.
“CBS has played an integral role over the last two seasons in helping build Thursdays as a night for NFL football, and we’re excited to have them on board again,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “At the same time, we’re thrilled to add NBC to the 'Thursday Night Football' mix, a trusted partner with a proven track record of success broadcasting NFL football in prime time, and look forward to expanding with a digital partner for what will be a unique tri-cast on broadcast, cable and digital platforms.”
There are a handful of likely candidates for that new streaming partner. Yahoo’s stream had mixed reviews regarding its functionality and technical capabilities, but given the turmoil at that company, it may not be in a position to bid on the next round of streams despite its seemingly successful experience. Facebook recently launched its Facebook Live video streaming, and did an NBA simulcast last year, but the company is still working through growing pains. Hulu is owned by a consortium of broadcast networks, so it would be a double-dip, which might make it an unlikely bidder. Netflix has about $10 billion in outstanding content commitments already. And, of course, there’s always aspiring media mogul Jack Ma and Alibaba. Let the games begin.