Sunday Night Football Extra Brings NFL to the Computer Screen

By Carolyn Braff

The NFL is joining the streaming revolution and it’s taking NBC Sports along for the ride. Beginning on Thursday, September 4, football fans will be able to watch all 17 of NBC’s Sunday Night Football games, plus a menu of Internet-only extras, live on nbcsports.com and NFL.com. Sunday Night Football Extra will take the video feed directly from NBC, replacing only the advertisements, and offer four additional camera angles to enhance the television broadcast.

“We want to be very complementary to the game broadcast, not cannibalistic,” explains Hans Schroeder, NFL VP of digital media and general manager of NFL.com. “Kickoff for the opening game on the Thursday night is 7:00 EST so this is a way for people at work this is a way to view the game. The interactivity and the alternative camera angles provide a two-screen experience where somebody can be watching the game broadcast and getting something complementary form the online broadcast.”

On any given week, Sunday Night Football Extra will provide four camera angles outside of the main production feed. Possibilities for those angles include set shots from the end zone or sideline, a fully produced second game feed or a camera following a specific player throughout the game.

At kickoff, Schroeder anticipates three of the additional angles will be stationary feeds, with a “Star Cam” set to follow a specific player. Micing that player for sound, however, requires a whole new game plan.

“Audio and how we capture audio in all shapes and forms, whether it’s additional sideline reports, interviews, or a miced player, are all things that we’re going to work in throughout the year,” Shroeder says. “Micing players is great when available and I think we’ll look to do that as much as we can.”

Sunday Night Football Extra, thus far billed as a one-year experiment, will also feature picture-in-picture capabilities, on-demand in-game highlights, live statistics and blog interactivity with NBC’s Football Night in America cast and NFL network talent.

“Our approach with NBC is to put out what we think is a compelling, robust product, look at how it performs over the 17 weeks of the regular season, and based on that figure how we move forward,” Schroeder explains.

Choosing NBC as the exclusive broadcast partner for this streaming trial was relatively simple for the NFL, given that they wanted a non-competitive broadcast window.

“The Sunday night opportunity was clear because we wanted to do the prime time games where there’s one window going on and it was a little cleaner,” Schroeder explains. NBC’s streaming push for the Olympics, where the network plans to stream 3,000 hours of live video on NBCOlympics.com, probably did nothing to hurt NBC’s appeal, either.

Although this year marks the first time complete NFL games will be streamed live online in the U.S., the NFL does have some streaming experience. The eight games that aired on the NFL Network during the 2007 season offered a three-hour Internet broadcast of the games that provided live look-ins on the action.

“We had a really positive experience with that based on the overall audience and the engagement, how long fans were coming in per stream,” Schroeder explains. “This is the next phase.”

For its streaming technology, the NFL is partnering with Adobe to develop a flash-based streaming player.

“Adobe’s really helping us co-develop what the product will be,” Schroeder says. “Then we’ll use various CDNs to help distribute the product.”

Finding CDNs robust enough to handle the volume of traffic the NFL anticipates will be critical for the success of this trial. A Cowboys-Packers NFL Network stream in 2007 attracted 250,000 concurrent users and caused a scramble for bandwidth.

“NBC will routinely have a 10 rating for their Sunday night games,” Schroeder explains. “We know the Internet can’t do 10 million simultaneous users, but we need to take that 250,000, which is a big number today, and work with these distribution partners to get to a million, or whatever that number could be in the near future, to let us reach that wider audience.”

For this trial season, Sunday Night Football Extra will not be available on cell phones and advertisements from the television delivery will not be patched through to the stream. Instead, the NFL will bring in a whole new set of advertisers for the streaming content.

“We will have a number of core partners and they will get a mix of in-stream advertisements and a fixed unit within the player that will match their in-stream ad,” Schroeder says. “We talk a lot about what users want, but the advertiser perspective is very important as well.”

This experiment may soon be the first step toward the NFL doling out streaming rights along with its television contracts.

“We’re going to have to sit down in the next two-to-three years and talk to all our broadcast partners about the next round of rights and packages that they receive,” Schroeder says. “I think us being able to go into those negotiations having an experience like this under our belt is going to allow us to be smarter about how we structure those rights going forward.”

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