What do I mean?
In an extremely unusual move, the Kansas City Chiefs vs. the Miami Dolphins game on Saturday night is free only to the people in these teams’ home television markets. All other people will have to tune in to the $5.99 a month Peacock streaming service to enjoy the game.
A look at the evidence suggests those who are upset with the NFL are right to be angry, and the NFL’s arguments for putting this game on Peacock don’t really hold up.
The NFL has claimed it’s an “experiment” and that streaming is the future. They point to the fact that they’ve been streaming regular season Thursday night games on Amazon Prime for a few seasons. The viewership for those streaming games were pretty good this season, especially among young people.
All of that is or may be true, but what the NFL is doing with the Peacock playoff game is something quite different.
First off, this is only the second time in over 50 years that an NFL playoff game is not available in every part of the country for free. Some might point out that there have been playoff games in recent seasons on cable (i.e. on ESPN). Those matchups, however, are almost always simulcast on ABC, which is available for free.
The one time the ESPN game wasn’t simulcast – a playoff match-up between the Arizona Cardinals and Carolina Panthers in 2015 – led to low enough ratings that Disney, which owns ESPN, started doing simulcasting going forward.
What is happening on Saturday isn’t like when the NFL allowed Sunday night and then Monday Night Football to be put on cable either. Those games, whether Sunday night on TNT and ESPN or Monday night on ESPN, were bonus football for fans.
They still got to watch their regular Sunday games for free and were given the right to pay to watch an additional regular season game a week on cable.
Here, the NFL is taking a very popular existing free product and making it harder to watch. The last two seasons the game on the first Saturday night of the playoffs brought in between 20 million and 27 million viewers.
Peacock itself had just 30 million subscribers as of last month. Most Americans don’t have it – roughly only one in 11 people in the country have a subscription – though the NFL says Peacock reaches over 70 million viewers. A personal aside, I own a subscription because my girlfriend bought it for me to watch the regular season Buffalo Bills’ game that streamed exclusively on Peacock (I love the Bills and my girlfriend).
Given this low subscriber rate and ratings for the only other playoff game not on network television, it would be surprising if the Chiefs’ broadcast comes close to the viewership of the same time slot the past two seasons.
This is despite the game featuring last year’s Super Bowl champion and the marquee personalities of Patrick Mahomes and the at-times dynamic offense of the Miami Dolphins – let alone the fact that Taylor Swift’s boyfriend, Travis Kelce, is set to play.
Now, I’d bet a lot more people would tune in on Saturday Night if the game was on Amazon, like the Thursday night games. Estimates show that somewhere around 170 million Americans have an Amazon Prime account, which is far larger than Peacock and accounts for a majority of Americans.
Amazon Prime, after all, is something most Americans have because they do their shopping on Prime – having access to NFL games is a happy bonus.
More than that, anyone defending the NFL by pointing to the streaming success of Amazon Prime’s Thursday games is missing another key point as well: those games were available for free on Twitch. You didn’t actually need a subscription to Amazon Prime to watch the games.
What’s going on here is that you have to pay for Peacock to watch the games. This isn’t just about finding Peacock on the web or downloading the app you don’t have.
I’m willing to bet the outcry over this Peacock exclusive would be significantly less if the game was free. Some might even argue that having an exclusive game on Peacock would be a good way to drive people to the Peacock app without making them shell out additional money.
That, however, wasn’t in the cards.
So why are the NFL and Comcast, the parent company of Peacock, doing what they’re doing?
This move is likely all about money. The NFL is getting paid $110 million to allow this game to be exclusively streamed on Peacock. That’s a lot of money for one game, so you can understand why the NFL is willing to lose viewers and “experiment.”
For Peacock, the same is true but for a different reason: they’re trying to build up the audience to a paid streaming app that is losing billions of dollars in an era where people are dropping cable. A number of analysts have called Peacock a “struggling” service in an era where everyone is trying to figure out ways to generate revenue and audiences from streaming.
Us playing on peacock ONLY is insane I won’t lie.
— Charles Omenihu (@charless_94) January 8, 2024
The NFL told CNN that they “understand that in the first few years of moving some games exclusively to digital platforms our viewership will likely not reach broadcast levels,” but they are “confident” it will be a “tremendous success.”
CNN has reached out to Comcast for comment in regards to both its partnership with the NFL on the game and the criticism laid out by some in the media and on social platforms.
The loser in this exchange is the customer; a customer that provided the NFL with the top 20, 56 of the top 57 and 93 of the top 100 most viewed broadcasts in 2023. This allows the NFL to rack in ridiculous amounts of money in television contracts.
One piece of good news for fans is that Chiefs defensive end Charles Omenihu is taking pity on them. He’s raffling off 90 free 3-month subscriptions to Peacock on X (formerly known as Twitter), after calling out the game being on the platform, labeling the decision “insane.”
If we get another million people giving out 90 free subscriptions, we can make a real dent in how many Americans have Peacock.