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The TV Streaming Mess Finally Came for the NFL
January 19, 2024

The TV Streaming Mess Finally Came for the NFL

Reading Time: 4 minutes

So Many People Are Angry at a Very Unpopular Streaming Service Right Now, Fans are going to have to pony up for Peacock to catch a huge matchup., Why is the NFL Miami Chiefs game on Peacock? It’s chaos.

On Saturday night, the Kansas City Chiefs will host the Miami Dolphins in frigid temperatures for one of the most hotly anticipated games of the NFL playoffs. And what a great game this could be! The Chiefs won the Super Bowl last year, the Miami Dolphins had an exciting regular season in the fall, and the odds are good that Taylor Swift herself will be stationed in a box at Arrowhead Stadium to support her all-American beau. It’s arguably the matchup of the NFL’s Wild Card Weekend, which is the first round of playoffs, and even if you’re not a die-hard football fan, you might be tuning in.

If you feel like coughing up some cash, that is. Peacock, NBC’s wildly unpopular streaming service, will be showing the game exclusively, and subscriptions are $5.99 a month. What’s that noise? Oh, a tired nation collectively groans.

It’s a borderline-Sisyphean process to watch modern television—there’s always another streaming service to subscribe to. You can pay loads of money for TV and some way, somehow, the latest hit show is on the one platform you don’t have access to. Sure, the cable and satellite TV bundles of yore were expensive, but the glut of disaggregated bills and services is both pricey and annoying to keep up with (and you might still need to pay for regular old cable to catch everything).

Professional football has—until now—remained one of the things you can more or less just turn on the TV and watch. In recent years, it’s been the bedrock of that old model of viewing. The 2023 NFL season brought the second-highest average viewership figures for games (17.9 million a game) since tracking began in 1995. NFL football is responsible for every single one of the top 10 most-watched primetime broadcasts of 2023. (The Super Bowl was No. 1 with 114 million viewers.) The only thing other than NFL football to crack the top 20 was the Academy Awards, clocking in at number 15 with 19 million viewers. The only non-NFL, non-Oscars program in the top 30 is the season premiere of Next Level Chef. You’ve never heard of Next Level Chef? Oh, well, there’s a reason so many people watched it—it aired right after last year’s Super Bowl and all but 16 million people changed the channel.

Many of the most-watched games featured the Chiefs, specifically—five of the top 10 television programs in the United States last year were Chiefs games. Take that in. Americans don’t collectively gather for much anymore—but we do to watch the Kansas City Chiefs. The move of such a big game to Peacock represents a major (unwanted) change in how millions and millions of people will engage in an American pastime.

Sure, NFL watchers are no strangers to flipping through channels—and, yes, streaming services—to find their favorite games. Most things this season could be watched with a TV and an antenna: The Sunday afternoon matchups are split up regionally and aired by Fox and CBS; NBC takes Sunday nights, and Monday nights belong to Disney’s ABC and ESPN. (While Monday Night Football aired on ABC each week this season, that’s reportedly because of a lack of scripted programming due to the writers strike—so, expect Monday nights to revert to ESPN next year.)

Thursday night games are the exception, having aired exclusively on Amazon Prime since 2022. For hardcore football fans, there are also supersize options available on streaming: NFL Sunday Ticket (now through YouTube TV) for $109 a year is for those who want access to (almost) every game all in one place. And for another $10 you can get the NFL Network’s RedZone, a cable broadcast that zooms in on whatever teams are close to scoring.

But the addition of Peacock to the mix adds an entirely new level of chaos. The fact that Amazon Prime Video has hosted Thursday Night Football for a few years has been a relative nonissue, since 160 million Americans already pay for Amazon Prime for, you know, two-day delivery and such. But Peacock has a relatively paltry 30 million paying subscribers, and lost billions of dollars last year. (For comparison, Netflix added nearly 9 million subscribers in a single quarter last year. Seriously, how many people do you know who are subscribed to Peacock?) To snag an NFL playoff game—and to, undoubtedly, boost its customer base—NBC parent Comcast coughed up a whopping $110 million for the rights. Local fans watching from Kansas City and Miami will be able to watch the game on their local NBC affiliate stations. Everyone else is stuck with Peacock.

Across social media, fans and sports commentators loudly decried the decision to give the game exclusively to Peacock. One Chiefs player, defensive end Charles Omenihu, publicly expressed frustration with the league’s media rights decision: ‘Us playing on peacock ONLY is insane I won’t lie,’ Omenihu wrote on X. Days later he announced he’d personally give away 90 Peacock subscriptions to beleaguered fans.

Sure, $5.99 isn’t much money, especially for a die-hard fan. But the nickel-and-diming we are experiencing in the streaming war era adds up, in both frustration and cost. The age-old question ‘What should I watch?’ is now necessarily followed by ‘How do I actually watch it?’ and ‘Wait, what’s my credit card security code again?’

Millions of people watching Chiefs–Dolphins this weekend will need to make a new account, a new password, input payment information, pay $5.99, download a smart-TV app or figure out a computer-to-TV hookup … and then remember to cancel Peacock so they’re not charged again next month. This is a familiar song and dance for television watchers, but its encroachment into sports—and playoff sports—signals that nothing is safely outside of streaming’s grasp. Whether that will dim the viewership numbers of football remains to be seen. For viewers, the functional end of the centralized cable bundle means that small fees, inconveniences, and headaches are ubiquitous. And watching a single playoff game—an occasion that’s supposed to be an escape from the doldrums of the real world—can be a complete headache.


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