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Facebook Wants to Pay for NFL Streaming Rights but Apple Doesn't

Amazon and Verizon are in the mix, too. We should get an answer this month.

Jared Wickerham / Getty Images
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.

Last month, the NFL sold off TV rights to its Thursday night games to CBS and NBC*.

This month, the pro football league intends to sell digital rights to the same games, and it should be nearing a decision shortly on which company will buy them. The NFL’s annual owners meeting starts in Florida on March 20, and sources say the league would like to have deals wrapped up by then.

Up for grabs: The right to stream up to 18 regular-season games. And, in theory, a chance to stand out from a crowd of online video players vying for viewers and advertisers’ attention.

Here’s a quick — but necessarily incomplete — list of would-be buyers, as well as one that isn’t in the competition, sourced by industry executives familiar with the bidding process:

  • Facebook, which until now has shied away from paying for content, is interested in the games. So far Facebook has been content to let other people upload video onto its giant platform, but its strategy appears to be shifting — it’s also willing to pay celebrities (relatively small sums) to use its Live streaming service.
  • Amazon, which been ramping up its own video offering, is also interested. Sources say the company has broader ambitions in streaming sports and is looking to hire a high-level executive to steer that effort.
  • Verizon, which already has mobile rights to NFL games, is looking at the package as well. The company is making a significant bet on streaming video, with moves that include the acquisition of AOL and the launch of Go90, a mobile streaming service that’s theoretically supposed to appeal to young viewers. Anecdotal reports from people who have sold Verizon content for the service say there’s no evidence that Go90 has any traction, but that Verizon remains committed to buying even more stuff to show.
  • Yahoo, which paid around $20 million to stream a regular-season NFL game last fall, submitted preliminary paperwork in the bidding process. I don’t know if the company, whose management, ownership and strategy are in flux, is still pursuing the games.
  • Apple, which could use something dramatic to set its Apple TV box apart from the competition, has determined that this package isn’t enough to pull that off, and isn’t bidding.

No comment, obviously, from any of the parties involved.

I’m not dumb enough to predict a winner, or a price. For context, though: NBC and CBS each paid $225 million to televise five games apiece, and they’ll also have the rights to stream those games on their own platforms.

* NBC is owned by Comcast, which is an investor in Vox Media, which owns this site.

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