NFL Playoffs 2024: Expecting Record Traffic, NBC’s Peacock Is Ready for First-Ever Streaming-Exclusive Playoff Game
NBC Sports draws on experience streaming big events
A new era in the history of NFL broadcasting begins Saturday night when the Kansas City Chiefs–Miami Dolphins AFC Wild Card Game streams on Peacock, marking the the first NFL Playoff game to appear exclusively on a streaming service. The historic — and controversial — move puts plenty of pressure on both the league and NBC Sports to deliver an experience on par with traditional broadcast, but both say they are ready for the challenge.
“Obviously, we’re taking a big step forward here with Peacock,” said Hans Schroeder, EVP, media distribution, NFL, on a media call this week. “We’re excited about this next step of making the game exclusively available on Peacock, but we do that with a lot of confidence and a lot of experience already behind us. We’re on [Peacock] every Sunday night all season long, we’ve been there for the last couple years, and we’ve been there with the Super Bowl [LVI] a couple years ago in L.A.”
Peacock Ready To Spread Its Wings: Tech Stack Ready for Viewership Surge
Despite near-record concurrent viewers expected for Saturday Night’s 8 p.m. ET playoff game, NBC Sports President Rick Cordella is confident that his company’s platform is up to the challenge, given its wealth of experience in streaming high-profile events.
“[In terms of] the technology, [we are] making sure that we deliver a clean experience to the users across America,” he said on the call. “Look, we’re in the big-event business; we stream the big events. We’ve streamed the Super Bowl, World Cup, Olympics, and WrestleMania in the past; Premier League each weekend; Sunday Night Football throughout the season. This is not new territory for us, and I have confidence that our product and tech teams will deliver a great experience for the viewers Saturday evening.”
Since the three games are not happening simultaneously, Cordella is confident that there won’t be any serious technical issues. NBC’s A-level team will be driving the ship from the start of Football Night in America at 3 p.m. on Saturday through the conclusion of the Rams–Lions game on Sunday night.
Though declining to get into specifics, he said the technical and engineering teams have alternatives and contingency plans in place should an issue arise.
“We certainly have [contingency plans] whenever you have an event of this scale ready to go,” he said. “To a certain degree, we’re lucky to have the experience around these big events and have learned from these events. We feel the utmost confidence in the technology and feel we’re going to deliver a great experience on Saturday night.”
In addition to producing the first streaming-only NFL Playoff game, NBCUniversal will be the first media company to present three NFL Playoff games in a single weekend: two games on Saturday and a primetime game on Sunday. CLICK HERE for SVG coverage of how the operations teams are handling this three-headed logistical beast.
While Preparing for the Streaming Tsunami, NFL Rides the Broadcast Wave
In 2023, the NFL once again proved to be the preeminent programming powerhouse, sports or otherwise. NFL regular-season games averaged 17.9 million viewers, tied for the second-highest since averages were first tracked in 1995. The highest average on record is 18.1 million from 2015. More than 190 million people watched some part of a regular-season game this year, another tie for second-highest on record. The first year of the league’s new television contracts saw a total increase of 7% from last season.
Although these colossal numbers wouldn’t be possible without the NFL’s sprawling reach on over-the-air and cable television, the league also has its eyes set on a digital-facing future as more and more fans turn to streaming platforms to watch games. When negotiating the current media-rights packages, which were announced in March 2021, the NFL made it a priority that all its partnerships have broad digital distribution.
“As we think broadly at the NFL about media strategy,” said Schroeder, “we continue to be very focused about having the widest possible reach for our games. That starts with a strong tradition we have on broadcast television and the reach we get there.
“But it has been an important focus for a long time to continue to grow and expand,” he continued. “Today, as the media ecosystem evolves around us, a lot of that is continuing to expand on digital and growing our presence on the screens and in the places and platforms where we know our fans are spending their time. That will continue to be a focus of ours.”
This weekend’s game on Peacock marks the latest chapter in a long history of digital innovations for NBC and the NFL. In 2008, Sunday Night Football Extra on NBCSports.com and NFL.com marked the first time that complete NFL games were widely available via streaming in the U.S. In 2012, NBC Sports and the NFL partnered on the first live stream of the Super Bowl domestically. On Christmas Day, the two collaborated on the first Peacock-exclusive game that featured a commercial-free fourth quarter — a feature that will be repeated for the final quarter on Saturday.
“Nobody is doing this better than NBC,” said Schroeder, “and we have a long history with NBC, innovating and growing our presence and growing our distribution. As we look to the Super Wild Card Weekend and all the exciting matchups, we’re excited to continue that innovation and continue to grow our presence on the new platforms and on the digital screens.”
Although the game will be available over the air on NBC stations in Kansas City and Miami, as well as streaming on NFL+, the decision to move a playoff game exclusively to a streaming service for the majority of the U.S. has proved controversial. Nonetheless, Schroeder said that the move to Peacock – along with the league’s other streaming-exclusive deals with the likes of Amazon Prime Video and ESPN+ for regular-season games — will only help grow the game’s popularity.
“We know and we see the continued evolution in the media landscape, and we want to be where our fans are,” said Schroeder. “We know they’re increasingly, especially younger fans, on different screens. We’re very focused and very committed on broadcast, but, for us, it’s not either/or; it’s both. We want to continue to broaden the distribution for our content. That’s the way we think we engage the broadest-possible fans, and that’s what the driving strategy is for the majority of our content.”
Although the Wild Card Game streaming-exclusive deal with NBC is only for this year, Schroeder said fans can “definitely expect” the practice to continue in the future and that the NFL is “excited to continue the conversation with NBC” and “expects there will be a lot of interest in it.”
‘This Is Not a Success-or-Failure Sunday Morning’: Long-Term Impact
NBCUniversal reportedly paid the league $110 million for the rights to the first exclusive live-streamed playoff game. It’s a massive commitment for a single game, but Cordella and company say it will be well worth the investment given the exposure it provides to Peacock’s library of other content.
“We did this for a reason,” he said. “It’s not just to get people to watch on Saturday night. It’s to get people to watch and experience all this various content that we have across the Peacock service, whether it’s Universal Films or its library content like The Office and Parks and Rec. We’re launching Ted this week with Seth MacFarlane, a show based on the movie, and Traitors, an unscripted show. There’s a wealth of content that people may be unaware exists.”
On top of that, Cordella notes Peacock’s other live sports content, particularly high-end NCAA Women’s Basketball, WWE Royal Rumble later this month, and NBC’s Divisional Playoff Game next weekend. With 30 million current Peacock subscribers, NBCU’s team sees Saturday as a potential flashpoint in the growth of its 3½-year-old streaming service.
“There’s a lot of content on Peacock. There’s a little misconception this is a pay-per-view [event] for $6. The reality is, you’re getting a lot of value for $6 beyond just Saturday night. We look [beyond] Saturday night: what has that audience experienced a month down the road? This is not a success-or-failure Sunday morning. It’s, did people behave how we thought they would behave once they got inside the platform? We’re excited about what it’s going to mean for our business and a long-term strategy for Peacock.”