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NFL's Media Chief Sees Amazon, Other Streamers Bringing a New Level of Interaction to Games

Vincent Carchietta | USA TODAY Sports
  • NFL executive Brian Rolapp told CNBC on Friday the league's new blockbuster media deal offers a chance to enhance the viewing experience for fans through digital streaming.
  • "Nobody just wanted to put television on the internet," said Rolapp, the NFL's chief media and business officer.
  • The broadcast pact features Amazon Prime Video as the exclusive provider of Thursday Night Football games beginning in 2023.

NFL executive Brian Rolapp told CNBC on Friday the league's new blockbuster media deal offers a chance to enhance the viewing experience for fans through digital streaming.

The broadcast pact features Amazon Prime Video as the exclusive provider of Thursday Night Football games beginning in 2023, the first all-digital package in the league's history. Four other media-rights holders — ViacomCBSFox, NBCUniversal parent Comcast and ESPN owner Disney — all have the ability to broadcast their respective games on their various streaming platforms.

"I think the [streaming] experiences will be different," Rolapp, the NFL's chief media and business officer, said on "Squawk Alley." "What they will be, I think, remains to be seen, but the underlying rights of these deals provide for that type of innovation, which I think we're excited to see and was really part of these discussions. Nobody just wanted to put television on the internet."

ViacomCBS' slate of games can air on Paramount+, while NBC can use its Peacock service to stream its contests. Fox's agreement permits it to show NFL content on Tubi, its ad-supported streaming platform. Disney, which also obtained rights to broadcast two Super Bowls on ABC, will be able to simulcast its games on ESPN+.

"I think with these partners, you'll see them take advantage of all the different things that a digital technology allows you to do," Rolapp said. "There could be developed interactive features. It clearly can change advertising, because once you have a digital platform, the targeting and the interactivity of that advertising can certainly change, something you can't get on television."

Rolapp said the agreement — which CNBC estimates could be worth more than $100 billion — does not spell the end of linear TV just because digital takes a bigger focus. "If you look at this contract, I think we've allocated all of our games to television distribution in some shape or form," he said, noting Amazon's Thursday contests will still air on TV in the local markets of the teams playing.

"I think streaming will certainly provide reach as people spend more and more time on digital. But if we're getting to the end of these deals and all we're doing is putting television on the internet, I think we've missed an opportunity," Rolapp said, regarding the new media agreements that start in 2023 and extend through the 2033 season.

One piece of the NFL media rights that was not included in Thursday's announcement was DirecTV's Sunday Ticket. AT&T currently owns DirecTV, but last month the company announced a deal with TPG to spin it off into a new entity along with its AT&T TV and U-Verse business. The existing Sunday Ticket deal lasts through 2022.

Asked about the next steps for Sunday Ticket, Rolapp said the NFL has seen "lots of interest" in acquiring the out-of-market package rights.

"It's a premium package for people who want to pay to get all of the games. It's done well in a paid-TV environment, and I think it will continue to do well in a paid-TV environment," he said. However, he added, "the type of custom nature of it, ... the fact that it's subscription lends itself very well to digital platforms, and so we believe Sunday Ticket has a very bright future, certainly in the digital space."

Figuring out where exactly that future will be, he said, is "clearly the next thing on our docket, which we'll get to work on."

Disclosure: Comcast is the owner of NBCUniversal, parent company of CNBC.

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