You’re going to need a play-call sheet to keep track of where to watch the National Football League on television this season.
The NFL season kicked off Thursday night with the Detroit Lions winning a surprise upset over the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.(NBC and its Peacock app aired the game under its “Sunday Night Football” rights.)
Long gone are the days when NFL games were shown on one or two networks. The league is showing more games across broadcast networks, cable, and digital streaming platforms this season than ever before, and more games exclusively on streaming.
NBC, Fox, CBS, ESPN/ABC — as well as their streaming apps — and Amazon will all broadcast some games this year. The NFL’s own streaming app and YouTube TV will also stream some games.
Here’s why there are so many different channels and streaming services, which many people might not even have, to watch the NFL.
It’s all happening now because the NFL is television’s most valuable product, especially as the media and tech industries face turmoil and more people than ever end their pay-TV subscriptions. The NFL in 2021 signed more than $100 billion in media deals over 11 years, which included the rights to more games on streaming services.
The owners of CBS, ESPN, ABC and NBC -— Paramount, Disney, and Comcast, respectively -— are pouring billions of dollars into their streaming services, which they see as the future of their businesses. They are showing more NFL games on streaming platforms, including games exclusively, to try to entice people to sign up.
The decline in traditional broadcast and cable television viewership is accelerating, and the NFL is the “glue” holding the pay-TV bundle together, media analysts at MoffettNathanson said in a report Thursday.
Last season marked the first-time people were able to watch three of the five NFL game packages through streamers.
This season will also feature a few firsts: NFL Sunday Ticket offered on YouTube; a streaming-only playoff game on Peacock; and Amazon Prime Video’s Black Friday game.
ESPN+ will air an international NFL game exclusively on its platform for the second time later in the year, and Amazon has exclusive rights again this season to Thursday night games. Amazon’s Thursday Night Football was the first NFL package to be shown exclusively on streaming.
Football is the rare event that millions of people still watch live and advertisers will pay up for as viewership for TV other than sports rapidly declines.
Excluding the Super Bowl, the NFL made up more than half of Fox’s viewership last season and around one-third of CBS and NBC’s, according to the MoffettNathanson report.
“The NFL is the biggest driver of network ratings and advertising dollars during the fall TV season,” the analysts said. “The NFL remains an outlier when compared to all other forms of linear content.”
So, NBC will show “Sunday Night Football” on primetime TV and Peacock. Fox will show National Football Conference games on its broadcast network. CBS will show American Football Conference games on its network and Paramount+. (CBS, which has the rights to the Super Bowl in February, will also show the game on Nickelodeon.) ESPN will air “Monday Night Football” games on ESPN and ESPN+. And Amazon holds the rights to Thursday night games, shown on Amazon Prime Video.
The NFL itself is also betting on streaming.
The NFL Sunday Ticket package, which broadcasts all out-of-market NFL games to fans, is moving to YouTube TV, owned by Google, this year after nearly 30 years at satellite provider DirecTV.
“We have been focused on increased digital distribution of our games and this partnership is yet another example of us looking towards the future,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said last year.