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Why Netflix (Probably) Won't Stream the NFL

On-demand streaming video is different from livestreaming video. For now.

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Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Netflix says it wants to replace TV. But “TV” means “sports,” and Netflix doesn’t do sports.

When will that change?

Netflix executives have been answering that question for years, and they continue to say that they’re not interested, even as the sports world looks increasingly comfortable with livestreaming video.

But Netflix itself doesn’t do livestreaming — it does on-demand streaming. There’s a technical difference, but the more important difference is business model/philosophy.

Netflix thinks it can pay a bunch of money for “House of Cards,” or new Adam Sandler movies, or whatever, because it will get value for those things over months and years — whenever people want to watch them. But an NFL game, or the World Cup, or any other big sports event, has to be live. Which is why the TV guys, and their advertisers, place so much value on them. Netflix doesn’t have to worry about advertisers.

Netflix content boss Ted Sarandos explained this yet again yesterday, to analyst Michael Nathanson at a conference Nathanson hosted with partner Craig Moffett. But note the caveats at the beginning and end of this exchange:

Sarandos: I will never say never, but I would say that where we sit today, I don’t think the on-demand to sports is enough of an addition to the value proposition to chase. I think the leagues have tremendous leverage in those deals, so it’s not like we’re going to get in and de-leverage the leagues. We’re going to go in and overpay like everyone else does, so it doesn’t get me that excited. Not to say that it wouldn’t someday, down the road, make sense. Today, I think there’s lots of growth in what we’re doing.

Nathanson: And there’s nothing available [from the NFL] to 2022.

Sarandos: Yep.

Got it? Netflix isn’t doing sports today, or soon. But things change. Netflix didn’t stream videos until 2007. 2022 is a long way off.

This article originally appeared on

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