Netflix and NFL sign three-year deal

Netflix is ​​no longer simply operating in the “sports adjacent” business. On Wednesday, the streaming giant announced a three-season deal with the National Football League that will include broadcasting two Christmas Day games on its service this year. It's the first time Netflix has partnered with a major sports league, and it likely won't be the last.

The move follows Netflix's increasingly aggressive push into the live events business. For the past two weeks, “The Roast of Tom Brady” has been the most-watched English-language television program; a six-day wacky talk show about John Mulaney went viral as part of the Netflix Is a Joke live comedy festival in Los Angeles; and the stand-up special “Katt Williams: Woke Foke” has been viewed 4.3 million times.

“Last year, we decided to make a big bet on live, tapping into huge fandoms across comedy, reality TV, sports and more,” Bela Bejaria, Netflix's chief content officer, said in a statement. “There are no live annual events, sporting or otherwise, comparable to the audiences attracted to NFL football.”

The two Christmas games will pit the Houston Texans against the visiting Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers against the visiting Kansas City Chiefs (increasing the odds for larger crowds with a potential Taylor Swift sighting).

The streaming business has matured in the United States, and while Netflix is ​​the dominant service, it has yet to continue to grow. With subscriptions relatively depleted in America, growth in other revenue streams has become crucial to the company's success. Advertising is chief among these.

At a time when more and more people are abandoning traditional cable subscriptions, live sports remains a problem for advertisers because it is a place where audiences are guaranteed in real time. This is especially true for the NFL, which remains a ratings juggernaut.

Last month, Netflix announced that its lowest-priced subscription service, which includes ads and has been around for about a year, grew 65% in the first quarter of the year, and on Wednesday said it now has 40 million of monthly active users worldwide. floor. Netflix has approximately 270 million overall subscribers worldwide.

“It shows how seriously Netflix is ​​taking advertising, because you don't do it unless you're fully committed, to the core, about how big you think it's going to be,” said Richard Greenfield, media and technology analyst at Lightshed Partners. “They're the ones setting the bar saying, 'We're here, we're going to grow much, much bigger in advertising, and this is actually day one.'”

Netflix has also engaged in so-called live sports-adjacent programming. In January, it reached a 10-year, multibillion-dollar deal for the exclusive rights to stream World Wrestling Entertainment's flagship weekly wrestling show, “Raw.” And in March it announced it would stream a boxing match between Mike Tyson and social media influencer Jake Paul live in July.

While the deal with the NFL is a first for Netflix, it represents a continuation of the league's streaming strategy.

Amazon began streaming Thursday night games exclusively on its Prime service in 2022. In January, NBCUniversal showed an NFL playoff game on Peacock, the first time in the league's history that it has conceded to a streaming service exclusive rights to a playoff game. The company paid $100 million for the rights, generated 23 million viewers and called it “the most streamed live event in U.S. history.” (NFL playoff games traditionally draw around 30 million viewers.)

For the past two years, the NFL has aired three games on Christmas, challenging the NBA's stronghold over the winter holidays. As part of this new deal, Netflix will stream at least one game during the 2025 and 2026 holidays.

Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, is leaning into streaming as television continues to decline in popularity.

“Our fans are on these platforms,” Goodell told reporters during Super Bowl week. “Our fans want access to it. The technology is amazing. On some of these platforms you can do things that you can't do on the linear platform. For us it is part of the future.”

While Netflix games will be simulcast on television for free in competing teams' cities, Netflix and others are likely to make a larger investment in the NFL and other sports in the years to come. Streaming, for example, is already playing a role in ongoing negotiations over future rights to broadcast National Basketball Association games.

“This looks like a watershed moment for linear TV,” analyst Greenfield said. “Getting the king of premium streamers to say we're really in the world of sports is a big deal for television. Because it doesn't matter what it means now: it just shows that you have another serious bidder for the sports rights.”

Emanuele Morgan contributed reporting from New York.

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