Come this Sunday, I'm going to do what most of you are, I imagine: find out which of my friends owns the biggest HDTV and then invite myself over for the Super Bowl. That got me thinking, though — if I wanted to watch the Super Bowl in my TV-less home instead, I couldn't. Well, correction: I couldn't legally.
I'm used to watching all my shows online, you see, on sites like Hulu. After poking around, I found that there's no way for me to watch the Super Bowl online through the NFL. There are dozens of different sites where I could find a stream of the game, of course. The NFL gets a lot of them shut down for rights violations, but there are simply too many to get them all. This whole sideshow plays out because there's no official NFL stream. There should be.
The NFL and streaming actually have a history. In 2008, the NFL decided that it would simulcast 17 NBC Sunday Night Football games live through NBCSports.com (disclosure: NBC Universal owns DVICE). There's also a premium service through the NFL that allows you to stream all previous games and Super Bowls — though nothing live. There's actually a way to watch games live on your iPhone, but it requires you to both be a DirecTV subscriber and fork over some extra cash.
Folks who are out of the country have the kind of streaming option a lot of us Stateside want: they can subscribe for a package to watch all regular season and playoff games live online. You know the one game they can't watch, though? Yep, the Super Bowl.
Both the MLB and the NBA have been experimenting heavily with online streaming, but the NFL — which brings in billions from its TV contracts — hasn't felt the need to go all-access. Instead of luring in new viewers with online initiatives, the NFL leaves it to individual streaming sites to police (poorly) the streams of the games that pop up. Thousands of people watch these. Just go to Justin.tv or Viddler and take a look at the viewership this Sunday. And, with streams in HD, it doesn't look much different than what you're seeing on your TV.
So therein lies my confusion. There seems to be a market that's built and ready; the NFL just needs to greenlight a stream. No, I won't subscribe to DirecTV and then pay for an NFL Network pass on top of that. What I would do, however, is pay for a cheap one-time stream. Or hey, why not just support that stream with ads? Super Bowl commercials are why a lot of us watch anyway.
Finally, I'd just say this to the NFL: No matter how many sites you shut down, there will be plenty of others making money from streaming your games — the Super Bowl included. It's just not you.