While premium movie channels get all the acclaim for original programming, the NFL which actually helped pioneer them with Hard Knocks in 2001, has launched several since to augment gamecasts, highlight shows, replays and top 10 lists to extend the brand toward a year-round TV phenomenon.
Just this year, the league introduced Finding Giants and Undrafted, true reality shows that it has made available through the $1.99 a month version of its new NFL Now app for fans to watch at their leisure on the device of their choosing – smartphone, PC, tablet or connected game console/TV device.
These latest entries join the likes of America's Game, A Football Life and The Top 100 Players franchise, and are helping the NFL expand beyond its longtime made-for-TV content owner status to that of a skilled content creator looking to leverage its voluminous video assets well beyond the big (TV) screen.
The secret ingredient in the NFL programming is the very "real" real life nature of its programming, unlike "reality" shows where un-related adults live together in a house and act like pre-teens, or series that show us staged family lives.
This is largely thanks to NFL Films, the creators of the powerful NFL Now app, and those forward-looking content strategists who have been producing original programming to fill the once-wide gap between the Super Bowl and the beginning of the preseason schedule.
For fans, this emerging programming trend is great news as it provides a close look at non-live aspects of the game not otherwise seen. Add the flexibility to view the programming across seemingly all device types whenever desired lets consumers stay connected to the sports and for more than "scoreboard" shows and highlight clips.
The NFL continues to move toward year-round sports status, with two gaps to fill; the one between the Super Bowl in early February and the(now 3-day long) draft in late April, and the second beginning after the draft aftermath subsides and players report to training camp in July.
Filling the Gaps
The beauty of the challenge here is that the two gaps can be easily addressed just like the rest of the year, with non-live, on-demand content far more captivating than traditional re-runs. Original series are the perfect approach given their transformation of one-time movie channels such as HBO, Showtime and Starz into something completely different – and more entertaining to viewers.
In 2007, the NFL targeted the first gap with the series Path to the Draft which provides pre-draft news, player analysis and more during a 50-episode (30 minutes each) run. This programming and the move to a three-day NFL draft keep fans engaged in a period where other pro sports are making runs to their playoffs.
Before a content owner can deliver its coveted asset to customers (fans), the on-demand programming has to be indexed and organized in in the company's content library. Next, the owner needs the ability to search for specific programming, sometimes down to the scene level, in preparation for delivery.
Allowing fans to customize by team and player the content they receive adds complexity to the process and required a powerful app. By comparison, delivering live content – highlights, press conferences, interviews and news shows – is easier since it's long-proven and widely used technology.
NFL Now, and Whenever
When the league launched its NFL Now app earlier this year, fans of America's game were likely taken by the new ability to customize the content they receive by team and player without realizing they can also access a gigantic warehouse of on-demand video that the league threw open the doors to.
Now, add the league's original series (the new ones) and those launched before the 2014 football season such as America's Game and A Football Life to the roster of non-gamecast compelling content. Expect more original, non-game, content from the league that can also be viewed on-demand.
Premium channels – and online services such as Netflix and Amazon Instant Video - have added original series such as Game of Thrones, House of Cards, True Blood and Ray Donovan to transition beyond a not-so-new movie focus and survive while the NFL is simply looking to expand its solid TV brand.
The league has clearly realized the need to have fans use the NFL Now app year-round. Allowing on-demand content to be viewed – and now original series – makes it far more likely that pro football followers will fire up the app regularly, and for much more than just a check for team transactions.
More is better. Stay tuned!
Bob Wallace is a technology journalist with over 30 years of experience explaining how new services, apps, consumer electronic devices and video sources are reshaping the world of communications as we know it. Wallace has specific expertise in explaining how and why advances in technology, media and entertainment redefine the way football fans interact with the league, teams, players and each other. He's the Founder of Fast Forward Thinking LLC.