CBS may have fixed its problem delivering NFL games through All Access, but it still can’t show the games on a mobile phone. This could be hurting NFL ratings today, and could compromise the entire future of the game.
CBS All Access plugs the NFL hole, almost!
CBS has finally fixed a big problem with its All Access SVOD service. Though it has the TV broadcast rights for many local NFL games, it cannot show those games in a simulcast of an affiliate channel through CBS All Access. Starting December 4th, All Access subscribers can watch their local football through the service. Except if they want to watch through the mobile app on a smartphone.
In 2013, Verizon signed a $1B four-year deal with the NFL for the exclusive mobile streaming rights for all CBS and Fox in-market Sunday games. The deal also includes all playoff games and the Super Bowl.
It’s not just CBS All Access that has been laboring with this problem. Viewers attempting to watch NFL games through Sling TV, DirecTV Now, and Twitter on a smartphone will all get the same result: a screen explaining the “programming is not available.”
The NFL has a problem.
Viewership is way down over 2015 level for NFL games this season. At first, the finger of blame was pointed at the presidential election. Two of the three debates clashed with NFL games, and viewers were supposedly distracted from on-field battles by the unseemly political battle taking place in the media.
However, the election is over and things have not returned to 2015 viewing levels. Even a game between two hot teams in week 11 of the football season failed to recapture the 2015 glow. The AFC South-leading Houston Texans faced off against AFC-West leading Oakland Raiders on Monday November 21st. The game was a close-fort affair, with the Raiders emerging the winner after scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
The game garnered a 4.0 share in the 18-49 demographic. The week 11 game in 2015, between the Patriots and Buffalo Bills, received a rating of 5.1.
Millennials fleeing NFL
One of the groups most affected by declining football ratings is the millennials. NFL ratings have been declining in 18-34-year-olds for some time. Peak game viewing occurred in 2011, with 4.3M watching per game. This season’s games are receiving a millennial audience of just 3M.
It is perhaps no coincidence that smartphone ownership has boomed during the same period. In the US penetration has grown from 35% in 2011 to 68% in 2015, and now tops 80%. Among millennials, ownership of smartphones has reached 92% penetration. But only Verizon customers can watch NFL games on their device.
Why restricted smartphone access is a problem
Millennials are using their smartphones constantly. Nielsen says 18 to 34-year-olds smartphone users spend 143 minutes a day using apps and web, 53 minutes on social media, 17 minutes streaming audio, and 10 minutes watching video.
If a millennial viewer goes hunting for the Monday night game on their smartphone, only Verizon customers will find it. Will the rest understand why they can’t watch the game, and rush off and find a TV or PC to watch? I doubt it. They’ll just return to the game app, social network, or website they were using before they remembered the game was on.
The NFL’s problem is that a presidential debate is no longer the only competition. It is Facebook, Candy Crush, and eSports king Twitch. And for at least two-thirds of the mobile audience, football isn’t even in competing for their attention!
NFL looking to renew Verizon deal
Incredibly, the NFL is looking to renew its exclusive Verizon mobile streaming deal. The New York Post reports the league is looking for much more than the $1B Verizon paid last time. The league is also considering throwing in Thursday night rights to sweeten the deal.
While it may be successful in securing a big increase in license fees from Verizon, doing so would be incredibly short-sighted. In the short term, the deal will do nothing to halt the ratings decline. In the long term, the league could be putting at risk the future audience for the game.
Why it matters
The NFL has sold the exclusive rights to mobile game streaming to Verizon mobile.
Millennial NFL viewership has declined nearly 40% since 2011, while smartphone penetration has reached over 90% and usage approaches 4 hours a day.
The NFL needs to focus on ensuring all millennials can access NFL games on smartphones to ensure there is a large audience for the games in the future.