Youtube and the NFL: Why filmmakers should be excited

nflYesterday word got out that Google met with executives from the NFL and one of the things they discussed was the possibility of Google purchasing the rights to NFL Sunday Ticket, which currently is offered by Direct TV. In 2009, Direct TV renewed their agreement with the NFL to the tune of $1 billion per year in order to offer their customers a chance (at a premium price, of course) to watch any NFL game broadcast on Sundays outside of their local market.

While Google taking over Sunday Ticket is perhaps a long shot, for a host of reasons, the NFL broadcast rights of any kind are a highly valuable commodity. Currently, FOX, CBS, NBC and ESPN all share traditional broadcast rights and pay huge amounts for the privilege.

The “modern era” of the NFL broadcast rights can be directly traced to December of 1993 when FOX made a stunning (at the time) bid to take over the broadcast rights for NFC games which had been broadcast on CBS for nearly 40 years. The FOX network had only been around for seven years and the move to acquire NFL games is credited with turning the “Big Three Networks” into the “Big Four”. At the same time, Direct TV entered an agreement with the NFL for Sunday Ticket and has maintained those rights since.

So why does the NFL command such interest from broadcasters? Hands down, it is the most watched sports league in America and that fact has proved invaluable at bolstering any given network’s lineup. Ratings, as they say, are everything in television and the NFL delivers big time.

Will Youtube, Netflix, Amazon and Apple, turn into the next version of the “Big Four” or HBO?

The short answer is YES. The transition for all four has been somewhat awkward and each has a different approach but they all want the same thing – viewers; consumers of content who will pay to watch some or all of the content they provide.

Over the past couple of years, Youtube, which is owned by Google, began turning themselves into much more of a broadcaster, offering streaming live events as well as funding dozens of “channels” on the site. It has been an effort to transform the site into a destination place for professionally produced content, rather than just cute kitten videos and, while it hasn’t entirely taken hold, it seems as though they are committed to following through. By adding something as significant as the NFL to their channel offerings, there is no question it would be a game changer.

By now, everyone certainly knows what Netflix is all about. Their transition from just offering DVDs by mail into emphasizing the streaming side of their business has been explosive and exciting. With shows like HOUSE OF CARDS, ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK and the resurrection of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, Netflix has invested a great deal of money into providing original content to their playlist. They have been candid that their plan is to greatly increase the amount of money they invest into original content over the next couple of years.

Amazon seems to be playing catch up with Netflix and has been for some time, but they also may be the most intriguing prospect. Already, you can stream many back catalogue of movies and tv shows on their site but you also can rent most new movies, some while they are still in theatres; something Netflix does not offer. They also have gotten into the original content game and, while they haven’t had the immediate success of Netflix in that arena, I wouldn’t bet against them.

Apple has long been ahead of the curve when it comes to the “how” in providing entertainment content to consumers. There is no doubt that they will continue to push on that side of things and whenever you hear any of the aforementioned companies names come up Apple is usually part of the conversation as well.

So what the heck does any of this have to do with content creators?

Opportunity.

Consumers are already starting to “get it”. The it I am referring to is that folks now use Netflix and the like to view their favorite shows and discover new ones (or old ones). Syndication is Netflix now. Did you miss Breaking Bad? No problem, just log on to Netflix and watch the entire series. And while you are there, why not check out a new show like House of Cards or Orange is the New Black? People are already doing that by the millions. It is only going to increase and that is very good news for you and me.

If you are a writer, director, producer or actor in the film/tv game and you are not aware of these expanding options for content then wake up. Stop bellyaching about not getting that role of being able to get someone at CAA to read your script and start making shit happen. There has never been a greater need for content.

Currently, anyone can upload their short film, movie, web series, pilot, etc. to Youtube but then what? You have to market it somehow and get eyes on it. But stumbling onto high quality original content on sites like Youtube has long been a challenge for creators. There is so much out there that getting lost in the mix is the expectation.

If Youtube were to make a huge splash by acquiring something like NFL games to offer then you can bet their emphasis would be to use that offering to bolster themselves as a broadcast destination that offers original content. They would be wise to not only promote the channels they are investing money in but to find ways to organize the content provided by users around the globe in a more manageable fashion. In essense, they need to, and I believe eventually will, make their site much more similar to what you currently do with your cable tv remote control.

In 2006, Google paid $1.5 billion to buy Youtube. That is probably the minimum amount per year they would have to pay to acquire Sunday Ticket from the NFL. Whether Google, Netflix, Amazon or some other online entity were to get the rights for NFL games, it would be a bigger game changer than when FOX paid over 5 times what CBS was offering to steal NFL broadcast rights away from them. Direct TV has 20 million subscribers and somewhere between 2 – 3 million purchase NFL Sunday Ticket for around $250 per season.

On the other hand, Google is available to everyone and, while they are probably not a safe bet to land the NFL quite yet, the fact they are even having the conversation has got to scare the hell out of Direct TV and be a wake up call to competing sites that Google is going to be a major player.

The writing is on the wall. Netflix, Youtube and Amazon are going to be aggressive enough that in five years you will treat them nearly exactly the same as you treat cable television right now, except that they will offer you more and you will always be able to view it when it is convenient for you.

As these sites continue to press forward with offering high quality content the broadcasters on the television side will be forced to adapt but one thing is certain; all of them will need content and that is what you provide, right?

If you are an actor, you have seen movie stars migrating to television over the past few years, making it harder for unknowns to get in the door. If you are a filmmaker you have seen the money go away for moderately budgeted indie films. Whatever part you play in this business, you have seen lots of change as all of these huge corporations maneuver themselves to create more profit. Perhaps I am too optimistic but I truly believe there is tremendous opportunity both now and coming soon. Your best bet is to continue to work hard at your craft and create your own projects.

If you build it, they will come. That has never been more true than now.

Whatever, GO SEAHAWKS.

Dane Reade is an admitted knucklehead, writer, director, producer, actor, storyteller and managing editor of The Tiny Protagonist. You can connect with him on twitter@TheUrbanHobo or via @TinyProtagonist

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