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Patriots Unfiltered Tue May 26 | 11:55 AM - 02:00 PM

Tackling Tech: Why NFL Game Pass Succeeds Minus Live Games

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Another big benefit is the ability to watch a fast-growing list of NFL originals on-demand. This premium video includes franchises such as A Football Life, America's Game, Hard Knocks and more.

And for fans thinking beyond game day, Game Pass also enables subscribers to watch thousands of older games dating back to the 2009 season, at their convenience. Don't dismiss the power of this feature because to each fan there's a huge difference between old games and classic ones.

The latter have no expiration date but are hard to find, let alone view when you want to. (NFL Game Rewind). I've interviewed fans about this feature and the first thing out of their mouths was "they (NFL) needs to go back much farther than 2009." One wanted to be able to watch The New England Patriots Tuck Rule game from early 2002. Accessing the league's vast video vaults for classics is a fan-favorite feature regardless of what team you follow.

The Audio Element

The other element in the elevation of Game Pass is its live radio feed throughout the NFL season. When the league was trying to reconcile its many standalone apps last year, it decided to take Audio Pass, which had cost around $7.99 a month and add it into Game Pass.

This feature allows fans to listen in to live home and away games (regular season, playoffs and the Super Bowl) even when they can't watch them live. That addresses part of the NFL audience that just can't wait 'til a game (or games) is over to tune in. The feature is available for every NFL game per season.

What about Preseason?

Game Pass includes the former Preseason Live, which is something like a poor man's NFL Sunday Ticket for those who watch the summer matchups before the regular season kickoff in early September. Preseason live allows fans to live stream any out-of-market preseason game. So, technically, Game Pass does include live NFL contests, just not the ones that count in the standings.

Device Coverage

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Live NFL games have long been considered must-see TV, with fans re-arranging their schedules to watch Sunday games and primetime matches throughout the season.

But a funny thing happened as the league was enhancing its Game Pass service, which only shows games after they are over. Game Pass seized the top spot among online sports service used in the U.S. beating out MLB.TV, NBA League Pass and the newish WWE.TV offering.

That's a tall order when you consider the competition all show live contests while Game Pass doesn't. In fact, research released from Parks & Associates last week shows that 16% of broadband homes in the U.S. use an online sports service.

The study was based on a Q4 2015 survey of 10,000 U.S. broadband homes; found that Game Pass is present in about 6% of these homes, followed by 4% apiece for the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Network and MLB.tv.

And with the NFL confirming that it's hard at work on enhancements and advancements for Game Pass that will be announced in the July/August time frame, the service should put some distance between itself and competing online subscription services (even without live game casts).

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Remember that the NFL is quite adept at creating apps, having launched event specific ones for Super Bowl 50 and the recent 2016 NFL Draft.

So how did NFL Game Pass get to be king of the hill?

I'm glad you asked.

Two words: asset consolidation account for most of the fan appeal.

Faced with a list of standalone league apps, the league decided to combine them into a single, feature-rich offering. Separately, NFL now was transformed from a separate app into a video service.

Before the consolidation, the lineup looked like this:

  • NFL Now
  • NFL Audio Pass
  • NFL Preseason Live
  • NFL Game Rewind
  • NFL Game Pass

NFL Mobile remains separate and can be used by any wireless customer and can access Game Pass. If you use NFL Mobile with Verizon Wireless, you can stream local market and all primetime games on your smartphone thanks to an exclusive deal between the two partners.

Suffice it to say that the app consolidation effort made lots of sense and has simplified things for fans as a whole.

Game Pass: Feature Rich

First and foremost, Game Pass makes watching games after they are over, for a mere $100 a season, far more attractive than you might think. One way it does this is by streaming condensed, 30-minute game casts. They can also be viewed without any commercials.

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Each quarter of a live televised game is allotted five or six breaks, which whether you are behind a TV or even in the stands, is a big negative (unless you are a TV network, an advertiser or the league). 

Combined commercial-free viewing of already played games with a slew of features not available to those watching live games on TV and you can better understand the allure of NFL Game Pass.

Coaches Film is arguably the most captivating (after condensed-game viewing) as it allows NFL fans to analyze a game like a pro using All-22 and End Zone camera angles of the match. That's compared two one or two viewing angles available on a televised game (one of which typically follows the football wherever it goes). Fans can use the DVR-like features so rewind or fast forward as desired.

nflnet-programming-tt.jpg

Another big benefit is the ability to watch a fast-growing list of NFL originals on-demand. This premium video includes franchises such as A Football Life, America's Game, Hard Knocks and more.

And for fans thinking beyond game day, Game Pass also enables subscribers to watch thousands of older games dating back to the 2009 season, at their convenience. Don't dismiss the power of this feature because to each fan there's a huge difference between old games and classic ones.

The latter have no expiration date but are hard to find, let alone view when you want to. (NFL Game Rewind). I've interviewed fans about this feature and the first thing out of their mouths was "they (NFL) needs to go back much farther than 2009." One wanted to be able to watch The New England Patriots Tuck Rule game from early 2002. Accessing the league's vast video vaults for classics is a fan-favorite feature regardless of what team you follow.

The Audio Element

The other element in the elevation of Game Pass is its live radio feed throughout the NFL season. When the league was trying to reconcile its many standalone apps last year, it decided to take Audio Pass, which had cost around $7.99 a month and add it into Game Pass.

This feature allows fans to listen in to live home and away games (regular season, playoffs and the Super Bowl) even when they can't watch them live. That addresses part of the NFL audience that just can't wait 'til a game (or games) is over to tune in. The feature is available for every NFL game per season.

What about Preseason?

Game Pass includes the former Preseason Live, which is something like a poor man's NFL Sunday Ticket for those who watch the summer matchups before the regular season kickoff in early September. Preseason live allows fans to live stream any out-of-market preseason game. So, technically, Game Pass does include live NFL contests, just not the ones that count in the standings.

Device Coverage

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You can watch NFL games online on a number of streaming players, Android and iOS tablets, Android and iOS smartphones, and your computer. NFL Game Pass is currently available on the following streaming players for your TV: Chromecast, Apple TV, Xbox One, and Xbox 360.

Coming Attractions

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Premium video - The NFL Network with NFL Films continues to create a steady stream of original series to engage fans, beyond those already accessible through Game Pass. In the last year alone, the league launched the one-season Finding Giants as well as The Timeline, Undrafted and Football Town.

Greatest hits - Don't underestimate the allure of watching games from past seasons. The NFL has the footage and its clear fans want to watch more of what it calls Classics than Game Pass currently providers (back to 2009). After live games, the second most popular matches to watch and re-watch would be the countless epic matchups for years before 2009. Look for Game Pass to include more this year. It follows that longtime fans of teams would rather see classics than watch games featuring teams they don't follow.

Bandwidth optimization tech - It's no secret that streaming video requires a good deal of bandwidth whether it's over wireline or wireless connections. With providing a quality user viewing experience in mind, the NFL recommends using a best available setting with Game Pass so that the stream matches the fan's available Internet connection. Setting the bit rate too high often result in choppiness of the video played. For Game Pass Mobile, the league notes that it works best over 4G and Wi-Fi networks. Slower networks or internet connection speeds can reduce the video quality available in NFL Game Pass Mobile.

Kids' Stuff - Given that kids watch less traditional TV, but seem bonded with broadband, the NFL could add some youth-specific features to Game Pass, something the offering currently lacks. The league does, however, have several youth-specific apps on its master list. The same goes for fantasy football apps.

Social Media Anyone? - With the league's work with YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. it wouldn't be a surprise to see social media integration in the next version of Game Pass.

The Bottom Line

With its first Chief Content Officer in charge, promotions this week within NFL Media, new distribution partners and seemingly limitless video assets, it's tough to say what new wrinkles we'll see in Game Pass for the 2016 regular season. Suffice it to say that Game Pass will be newer and much improved.

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 redefine the way sports fans interact with their league, teams, players and each other. He's the Founder of Fast Forward Thinking LLC.

You can watch NFL games online on a number of streaming players, Android and iOS tablets, Android and iOS smartphones, and your computer. NFL Game Pass is currently available on the following streaming players for your TV: Chromecast, Apple TV, Xbox One, and Xbox 360.

Coming Attractions

vinatieri-snow-kickap_02011904397.jpg

Premium video - The NFL Network with NFL Films continues to create a steady stream of original series to engage fans, beyond those already accessible through Game Pass. In the last year alone, the league launched the one-season Finding Giants as well as The Timeline, Undrafted and Football Town.

Greatest hits - Don't underestimate the allure of watching games from past seasons. The NFL has the footage and its clear fans want to watch more of what it calls Classics than Game Pass currently providers (back to 2009). After live games, the second most popular matches to watch and re-watch would be the countless epic matchups for years before 2009. Look for Game Pass to include more this year. It follows that longtime fans of teams would rather see classics than watch games featuring teams they don't follow.

Bandwidth optimization tech - It's no secret that streaming video requires a good deal of bandwidth whether it's over wireline or wireless connections. With providing a quality user viewing experience in mind, the NFL recommends using a best available setting with Game Pass so that the stream matches the fan's available Internet connection. Setting the bit rate too high often result in choppiness of the video played. For Game Pass Mobile, the league notes that it works best over 4G and Wi-Fi networks. Slower networks or internet connection speeds can reduce the video quality available in NFL Game Pass Mobile.

Kids' Stuff - Given that kids watch less traditional TV, but seem bonded with broadband, the NFL could add some youth-specific features to Game Pass, something the offering currently lacks. The league does, however, have several youth-specific apps on its master list. The same goes for fantasy football apps.

Social Media Anyone? - With the league's work with YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. it wouldn't be a surprise to see social media integration in the next version of Game Pass.

The Bottom Line

With its first Chief Content Officer in charge, promotions this week within NFL Media, new distribution partners and seemingly limitless video assets, it's tough to say what new wrinkles we'll see in Game Pass for the 2016 regular season. Suffice it to say that Game Pass will be newer and much improved.

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 redefine the way sports fans interact with their league, teams, players and each other. He's the Founder of Fast Forward Thinking LLC.

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