According to this Washington Post article, the NFL’s ratings are down 15% this season from last season. The article seems to blame “cable cutting” and the political shit storm the United States finds itself in currently, but I’m not so sure about that.
While cable cutting is, in fact, a direct threat to some of the NFL’s products such as Monday Night Football (ESPN), most of its games are readily available over the air. A simple $20 investment in a digital antennae gets you most NFL games.
I believe that the NFL’s viewership is the same, or growing, but not measurable by any currently available metric. In the same way that peer to peer file sharing hurt the music industry, the NFL and other sports leagues are going to soon discover that peer to peer streaming is going to crush their media revenue just as much unless they pivot.
AceStream is a program that offers its users the ability to receive HD audio and video over the internet without incurring any fees (other than bandwidth). This isn’t your typical European streaming service with cancerous pop-up ads and shitty below standard definition quality. This is 720p or 1080p HD video that is easily available and that’s original source can be made to be untraceable, meaning that copyright enforcement will be extremely difficult. This programs’ popularity is only growing and I assure you that it’s not going away. This is to sports broadcasting what Napster was to the music industry.
So how does the NFL combat peer to peer streaming? It’s simple. The NFL needs to stop selling its licenses off to networks that are woefully behind the times and instead set up an infrastructure to broadcast its own content with its own production teams, while focusing on community provided commentary. In short, the NFL needs to provide a product superior to what can be obtained from AceStream.
Twitch is popular, not just because its viewers like to watch other people play games, but rather because its viewers want to share an experience with a streamer whose personality is compatible with their own. In a technologically driven society, our human to human interactions are becoming more sparse, and we’re getting more thirsty for connections to other human beings. Why are live events so much better than just watching an event on television? Because we want to share the “did you see that!?” moments with people. We want to experience history with other people as it unfolds.
Right now, the NFL is completely one sided. Sometimes they make a vain attempt to capture our thoughts through twitter, but most of the time people don’t bother because there’s a million other idiots just like us flooding that same twitter feed with equally asinine comments. Twitch finds an elegant method of taking a singular event and then allowing for its community to branch off into smaller groups so that people don’t feel drowned in the chatter. The twitch tree is healthy because their seeds, or streamers, are healthy.
The commentary for NFL games is woefully lacking, and it becomes more and more watered down every year. Commentators are employed by the networks directly, who are watched over by FCC and the NFL’s politically correct arm itself. It’s not entertaining. It’s my ears telling my eyes what my eyes have already seen, and it’s getting really old.
Wouldn’t it be better if fans could provide the commentary for the games themselves, with an option for other fans to watch along with them, and chat with eachother? I’d much rather find commentary for sports featuring real people that talk to me like an adult. There could be commentators who break the games down for people who are brand new to the sport, which would allow for more growth. Commentators focused entirely on the fantasy aspects. Commentators focused on the bullshit TMZ drama 90% of us don’t care about. Commentators who curse like sailors. Commentators for women. Commentators for kids.
The NFL, and other sports league, have an opportunity to build something amazing. They have this amazing technological platform to build their empire on; I just hope that they don’t let their archaic policies on media rights get in their own way, because if they don’t, they’re going to see their product go down the toilet in precisely the same manner the music industry has.