CBS wants to offer a live online video stream of next year's Super Bowl XLIV from Miami and the NFL just might say yes. This isn't your usual tech rumor, either; the announcement that CBS, the official broadcaster for Super Bowl XLIV, wants to stream the mega-popular sporting event comes from CBS Interactive President Quincy Smith, according to Business Week. In the same report, Brian Rolapp, the NFL's senior vice-president for media strategy, says the NFL "would be open" to CBS' proposal. That's not a firm guarantee, but with two named sources from CBS and the NFL openly discussing the idea, Super Bowl streaming may be just around the corner even if we don't see it in 2010.
The possibility of the Super Bowl hitting the Web comes on the heels of recent successes for CBS and its online sports programming. During its television broadcasts of NCAA basketball's March Madness 2009, CBS hauled in millions of dollars from big-ticket advertisers. Even more shocking is the claim that the network managed a modest, ad-supported profit from its online streaming of the college tournament (in 2008 for the first time; this year the stream also went to the iPhone).
While other online content streaming sites may be struggling to make money online, CBS and others are finding that live sports can bring in some money from online audiences. Since it's a live event, fans are already more tolerant of online commercials during half-time and time outs, Arash Amel, broadband analyst for the research firm Screen Digest told Business Week. Amel also said those same sports fans taking in ads during games usually grate at seeing too many commercials while streaming an episode of their favorite television program.
The ability to watch sports online is also a privilege that some are willing to pay for. Major League Baseball has been working on its MLB.TV venture for three years now, and while it's a little rough around the edges it is a very competent service. The NHL has also been dipping its toes in the online streaming waters with the NHL GameCenter Live and the NBA has its League Pass for international online viewers.
Even the NFL offers live online streaming for football fans outside of North America and the United Kingdom through its NFL GamePass. Gridiron fans also got a treat when the NFL and NBC streamed Sunday Night Football to U.S. residents during the 2008-2009 regular season. The NFL found that online streaming was largely used by millions of viewers as a supplement to the television broadcast, Rolapp told Business Week. That's not surprising to me, since I was one of the millions using the online stream to get different game angles while also keeping my television tuned to the NBC broadcast.
Streaming the Super Bowl would be a smart move for the NFL. Let's face it; there are already many illegitimate streaming sites where you can view most major professional sports. NBC learned that lesson during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. The network embraced the Internet by streaming and posting thousands of hours of Olympic coverage online; however, it was taken by surprise when U.S. viewers had numerous options to watch the more popular Olympic sports online before their scheduled broadcast time on NBC. For the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, NBC plans an authentication wall for cable subscribers, which will inevitably push those who want to see the Olympics via the web to the multitude of rogue streaming sites.
NBC's authentication wall is the wrong move. The network is only setting itself up for defeat in a battle that other content producers like the record labels and movie studios are already losing. By embracing the Web and providing high-quality, accessible streams for major sporting events, broadcasters will bring viewers in droves to their sites and may find they are enhancing, not cannibalizing, their television audience.