Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Comcast’s Peacock, Other Streamers Adding More Live Sports

When the Notre Dame football team played its home opener on Saturday, you couldn’t find the game on traditional TV.

The Fighting Irish, one of America’s most popular college football teams, instead played on Peacock, Comcast’s streaming service. It was the first time a Notre Dame football game aired exclusively on a streaming platform, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. 

Football fans will see other Notre Dame games on traditional TV this season, but Saturday’s game could be a glimpse into the future. Media companies are adding more live sports to online streaming apps, racking up subscriptions but further unraveling the pay-TV bundle, analysts said. That’s giving cord-cutters access to bigger sports events but fragmenting those games across a growing number of streaming services.

Philadelphia-based Comcast is hardly alone. Consumers will need Amazon Prime Video to watch the NFL’s Thursday Night Football next year unless they live in local markets where the teams are based. Disney’s ESPN+ plans to carry 1,000 NHL games this season, and 75 will be exclusive to ESPN+ and Hulu. ViacomCBS’s Paramount+ will offer March Madness and the Masters, though not exclusively.

Streaming services have raced to gain subscribers by bulking up their content offerings, mostly with vast libraries of on-demand movies and shows. Now, media companies are experimenting with more live sports, with plans to stream games that simultaneously air on TV, or in some cases put events exclusively on their apps. The strategy could help reach a younger audience already accustomed to streaming, while persuading traditional TV watchers to download the apps.

To be sure, fans have been able to stream some sports for years, from international soccer to out-of-market MLB games. And legacy media companies are perhaps a decade away, if not more, from streaming most of their highest-rated events at the expense of pay-TV, analysts said. Broadcast rights with the major sports leagues are too expensive to take off TV, which still reaches tens of millions of homes. There are existing broadcast rights deals that limit streaming, too.

“I think we do eventually get to a space or a time when it’s cannibalistic,” said Naveen Sarma, senior director at S&P Global. “I think it’s going to be a lot slower than everyone thinks.”

For now, media companies consider sports streaming a complement to their traditional TV offerings, Sarma said. But a tipping point could come when ESPN+, which has acquired streaming rights for a wide range of sports, garners enough subscribers that it no longer makes sense for the ESPN TV channel to be the exclusive home of NFL’s Monday Night Football, he added.

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