cord cutting Boxee Box Apple TV ESPN Roku Mark Cuban

Source: AP Photo/Charles Krupa

By Randy Giusto- Today it was leaked over on Engadget that the NFL may be looking to offer its NFL Sunday Ticket on Internet-enabled streaming boxes in a possible breakaway from a satellite only model. Apparently this came from a DirecTV survey making the rounds out there online. Service providers are always conducting market research to improve their services, test new concepts, and measure subscriber behavior and attitudes towards new bundles or pricing. Sometimes some part of what is being tested sees the light of day, and sometimes it doesn’t.

What appears to being explored is the interests of customers who may prefer viewing NFL Sunday Ticket over internet streaming solutions such as Apple TV, the Boxee Box, or Roku, or even internet-enabled TVs or Blu-ray players as opposed to dedicated satellite hardware. One concept included the exploration of an individual $19.99 per weekend price plan, but like any smart survey, I’m sure they would be testing multiple price points, multiple bundles, and a range of features, probably in some type of conjoint analysis.

Clearly the NFL is ready for the alternate platforms. In fact, it is one of the last holdouts! It already streams its HD content to PCs and mobile phones, but it hasn’t made the great leap towards the new streaming platforms in the way that the NHL and MBL have. I happen to stream the NHL over Roku at home and would love the chance to stream NFL Sunday Ticket across the Roku box, either on a per weekend basis or the entire season. I don’t have the greatest southern exposure for a satellite disk. Doing so would also give a further boost to the alternate platforms. Current Apple TV owners would love to see more sports content delivered on that platform as well.

Cable providers are still adamant that cord cutting is not happening. Even this past week ESPN released “its own study”— but based on Nielsen data, so one it’s biased since ESPN paid for it, and two Nielsen’s data has had its non-supporters lately— saying that cord cutting is miniscule. Mark Cuban came out and predicted the demise of Netflix as did Jeffrey Bewkes, chief executive over at Time Warner. Yet Netflix now has 17 million households, and has kicked into hyper drive since launched its streaming service, then dropped its price by offering a non-disc in the mail version. The company is now worth more than $2 billion. Someone is in some serious denial down there in Texas. And in New York too. ESPN does not own the NFL, it’s the other way around.

The web is making its way into the living room, either via next generation HD TVs (a more expensive solution) or via next generation Blu-ray players and the streaming boxes previously mentioned. People want choice and the technology is there. They want additional nuances, and they’re tired of being nickeled and dimed by their cable or telco TV operator.

The NHL, NBA, and MLB are already in the game, but they are not across all the platforms ubiquitously. So one box may have pull over another depending upon the sports gene that runs in your household. But it will get interesting when and if the NFL breaks out of its playbook and offers NFL Sunday Ticket outside of a satellite TV deal. That will bring more subscribers into the game, and make cord cutting, or cord splitting if you want to be nice about it (a lot of subscribers want both options) a little more attractive. Sports has been the holy grail for the cable and satellite providers. I’ve been in discussions with service provider and content provider executives who have said those exact words. But this game is going to change.

Sports fans and American households would see it as one step closer to getting the content they want, without being locked into 1,000 channels with nothing on to watch. But if ESPN and the service providers want to play the same game that the music studios played, well, history has a way of repeating itself. It may play out differently than music, but something differant will play out. Subscriber satisfaction is not anything to crow about these days. Go back and measure it after this quarter’s rate hikes. And if content providers start locking out or pulling back content from service provider pressure, pulling it off of Hulu, Hulu Plus, Netflix, and the alternate platforms, it will show just how big a stick they all carry in the net neutrality argument. I don’t think subscribers will take it lightly, nor will they let Washington.

– Randy Giusto