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NFL’s Relationship with Mobile TV: It’s Complicated

There is good news and bad news for NFL fans on mobile TV. The good news is that the National Football League has just released a new mobile app for iOS, Android, Windows and Blackberry. It combines the previous two separate NFL apps for ease of use. The bad news is between licensing, agreements and carrier deals, what you watch and have access to could vary widely.

The app is free, and you can access clips, news and scores. But what if you want to watch actual games? It’s gets a little more complex. If you are a Verizon mobile customer you can watch full games on your phone, as well as access the NFL Network and NFL RedZone for a monthly fee. The games are a good mix, but not everything. Although you can get the NBC Sunday night game, the Thursday night NFL featured game and even the Monday ESPN game, the app is locked out of games carried by FOX and CBS. But what if you are a Time Warner customer? Then you’ll get locked out of the NBC and ESPN games, but will have authenticated access to RedZone and the NFL Network, and you will get the Thursday night games. What about the big Sunday games? The FOX and CBS games are under a different set of rights, and can’t stream through the NFL app, but can stream via their own network streams outside of the app. Oh and the Verizon package, while appealing, does not include tablets. Plus once you learn the ropes on the different aspects of all this, most of it will change a year from now anyway, when the contracts and agreements will need to be renewed. 

We’ve previously reported on how the NFL is betting big on mobile and actually that is a good thing. There is a lot of energy and momentum behind mobile TV and streaming, from options such as networks having dedicated streaming apps, OTA technology such as Dyle, companies reinventing TV like Aereo, and the wide range of tablets and smartphones playing movies, shows and services. There has never been a more vibrant landscape than right now for TV on the go. But while the NFL is betting on multiple avenues, and has numerous agreements in place, it still has to educate customers to the options available in an easy-to-digest manner. 

Cable TV has learned how to do this over the years, its a la carte packages have been refined to simple options, buy the base, then add on what you want. Someone who suddenly wonders if they can get football games on their tablet may have to navigate different carriers, networks and providers, as well as go in app or out of app, just to make sense of it all. 

NFL tried to streamline by combining its carrier-based Verizon app with its general-purpose, stand-alone app, but it's unclear yet if this will help solve the fragmentation or render more customer confusion. The one positive aspect is that the NFL is trying, and certainly dedicated, to getting ahead of the game, so to speak, of the growing mobile TV market. A lot could change a year from now when the contracts need to be renewed, and here’s hoping it will be easier to navigate the various options then what is currently available. We’ll wait and see, but for now at least there are several options to see the NFL on tablets and smartphones.