For some time now, I’ve been ringing the warning bell for cable television providers that the cord-cutting trend has only thus far been prevented from becoming a deluge by live sporting events. It’s one thing to watch TV dramas and reality programming either in binge-fashion or streaming days after the original television airing, but live sports is still a major draw for cable TV audiences. Because of the combination of broadcast partner deals many of the leagues have worked out with cable providers and the nature of the sports product, this may be the last bastion of hope for cable TV as we know it today.
But that thread of survival continues to unravel. In the past two years or so, we’ve seen the major athletic leagues begin to open up on the concept of live-streaming games. The NFL was among the first of the major players to ink toe-in-the-water streaming deals, but the NBA and MLB have followed closely behind. And while those deals are meager and fragmented in terms of the streaming providers in question, it’s worth noting that Amazon is reportedly targeting sports streaming generally as a way to expand its Prime product.
Amazon apparently never stops thinking about possible perks it could add to its annual $99 Prime membership, and the next feature could be live sports. A report from The Wall Street Journal suggests that Amazon is in talks with professional sport organizations including Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, and the National Football League to negotiate the rights to stream live games and events.
According to the report, Amazon is looking at creating a premium sports package that it could include in Amazon Prime memberships. If it comes to fruition, a sports package could draw a lot of new customers to Prime, which already offers free two-day shipping, Amazon Video streaming of TV shows and movies, music streaming with Prime Music, the Prime Reading library of free e-books, and more. It would also be a big way for Prime to stand out among other streaming services, particularly Netflix, which has steered clear of sports since most people don’t want to watch a football game after it’s over.
The barrier to all of this, of course, is that those leagues already have broadcast deals in place with television providers. That is particularly the case with the MLB and the NBA, which both rely heavily on cable networks to broadcast their games. The NFL, on the other hand, has long partnered with the “local” national networks, CBS, NBC, and Fox. It therefore may have more room in which to wriggle into streaming sports, demonstrated by the fact that it has already done so in its Yahoo! deal. Regardless, one of the streaming titans getting into sports streaming, should it happen, should be setting off all kinds of warning bells for the cable companies.
In a time when streaming services are incredibly popular, live sports is a major reason people still pay for pricey cable packages. A good example is DirecTV, which saw a big subscriber bump when it began offering the premium NFL Sunday Ticket package.
With the market penetration for smart TVs and devices that allow streaming to be beamed to non-smart TVs, this interest by Amazon represents a major landshift in the cable TV market. Streaming services like Prime can be more nimble with pricing, as well, as they don’t have to adhere to the practices of packaging undesirable content along with the channels and shows that consumers actually want. And, what’s more, Amazon’s interest here is likely to spur its competition to get into sports streaming as well, if only to keep up with the Amazonian Joneses.
Even if this takes a while to get rolled out due to existing broadcast contracts, the end may be nigh for cable television as it currently exists.