Goodbye, Linear TV: Netflix to Stream NFL Christmas Games in 2024

16 May 2024

The New Hollywood leader and one of the world’s most powerful brands just joined forces in a deal that elevates live sports on connected TV (CTV) and hammers another nail in the coffin of linear TV. Netflix announced that it will stream the NFL’s two Christmas Day games in 2024. This marks the beginning of a three-season agreement, during which the streaming service will also air at least one Christmas Day game in both 2025 and 2026.

The games will also air on broadcast TV in the competing team cities, and they be available on U.S. mobile devices with NFL+.

The Rise of Live Sports on CTV

The live sports industry is the last bastion of linear TV viewing. But the world is changing fast. About half of U.S. audiences no longer pay for cable TV or other traditional pay TV services, according to Insider Intelligence. About four out of 10 viewers mainly consume sports content through ad-supported CTV platforms or social media, according to Trade Desk’s Future of TV Report.

Streaming services have been gobbling up live sports content over the past few years, ranging from Amazon’s and Peacock’s deals to stream NFL games to Netflix acquiring rights for the WWE. And competition is heating up. A recently announced venture between ESPN, Fox, and Warner Bros. Discovery may account for about 55% of U.S. sports rights, according to Citi analysts.

All Hail the NFL

Netflix, a Johnny-come-lately to live sports, has good reason to cozy up to the NFL. The NFL dominates television and drives culture. Nielsen says the NFL accounted for a 93 of the 100 most-watched TV broadcasts in 2023. The NFL has wisely sensed and responded to the rise of CTV, agreeing to air games with a variety of streaming companies, among them Amazon Prime, Paramount+, Peacock, and YouTube TV. Thursday Night Football games on Amazon Prime and a Black Friday game (the first ever) in 2024 have delivered ratings and advertising gold.

The league created controversy by streaming a 2024 wild card playoff game on Peacock exclusively, which shut out viewers who lacked a Peacock subscription. But the decision delivered numbers: 23 million total viewers, according to Nielsen. NBC said that the game set a record for the most-streamed live event in U.S. history.

And Super Bowl LVIII on February 11 game attracted an average viewership of 123.4 million, setting a new record for the most-watched television broadcast in history. Out of this audience, 112 million viewers watched the game on CBS. The remaining viewership was distributed among Paramount+, Nickelodeon, Univision, CBS Sports, and various NFL digital platforms, including NFL+.

All Eyes on Amazon

The NFL is clearly just getting warmed up. The 2024-25 season will include a game in Brazil streaming exclusively on Peacock. The September 6 game will be the first NFL game played in South America and the second game to air exclusively on Peacock. A playoff wild card game will air on Amazon Prime Video.

Amazon streaming a playoff game is especially intriguing. The experience will most certainly be different than the one Peacock featured and speaks to CTV’s potential for changing how people experience live sports. For one thing, Amazon will use the game to test Amazon Ad targeting features as it did with the Black Friday game when Amazon rolled out a new strategy called audience-based creative, allowing advertisers to target different audience segments with different ads in the same time slot.

Amazon will also inject commerce into the game-watching experience. Amazon already offers deals for Amazon Prime customers associated with Thursday Night Football, and Amazon really ramped up shopping deals during the 2023 Black Friday game (including limited time deals along with plenty of shoppable ads).

Amazon also provides several interactive features to enhance the TV viewing experience, such as X-Ray, which gives fans real-time access to live statistics and data. A feature called the 4th Down Decision Guide offers fans the opportunity to step into the role of NFL coaches during critical moments. It poses the question: should a team attempt to advance on fourth down or opt for a punt? Using machine learning, this tool assesses the success rates of both choices and evaluates their impact on the team's chances of winning the game. These kinds of features (and a lot more) are not gimmicks -- they make watching the game more of an experience.

Essentially, Amazon and the NFL are reinventing Black Friday as a hybrid shopping and entertainment experience -- enticing people to stay online and watch football on a day when they’re usually out shopping was at one time unthinkable. The game garnered an average of 9.61 million viewers who watched the Miami Dolphins crush the New York Jets on Amazon Prime Video.

The ratings were lower than expected. But Amazon’s first NFL outing with Thursday Night Football underwhelmed at first, too, and now things have turned around. And as Columbia University sports management professor Joe Favorito told The Street, "If you would have said to someone nine million people on the Friday after Thanksgiving are going to watch a streamed NFL game three years ago, people [would] have been jumping up and down."

Amazon’s relationship with the NFL will also challenge Netflix to deliver something more experiential especially because Amazon is already creating the state of the art in CTV live sports. I expect Netflix will share more details of its own in coming weeks.

A Christmas Advertising Bonanza?

Christmas Day marks the NFL’s continued expansion into holiday sports viewing. The NFL averaged 28.4 million viewers across its three games on Christmas Day last season (compare that to the NBA, which averaged 2.8 million across its five games). According to the NFL, last year’s three Christmas games ranking among the top 25 most viewed TV programs of 2023.

Analyst Guggenheim predicts that these games will bring in approximately $185 million in direct advertising revenue. This figure is in addition to potential increases in subscriber growth, engagement, or promotional benefits. Such a boost would signify a 15.7% increase over the firm’s existing 2024 advertising forecast of $1.18 billion.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the day is coming when the Super Bowl will move to CTV. Which New Hollywood business will win that prize?

NFL photo by Photo by Adrian Curiel on Unsplash. Netflix photo by Alexander Shatov on Unsplash.