CBS Looking to Nail Down NFL Streaming Deal

Network Angling to Offer Games Via 'All Access' OTT Service

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Credit: Bill Inoshita/CBS
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CBS is looking to secure a deal that will allow it to stream its NFL games to subscribers of its over-the-top streaming service, CBS All Access.

Speaking to investors Monday at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom Conference, CBS Corp. President-CEO Les Moonves said the nation's top-rated network wants to negotiate a streaming deal with the NFL before the 2016 campaign kicks off.

"I think we will be able to get a deal with them to stream it on our service," Mr. Moonves said. "That's a goal we have before next football season, and then hopefully that happens." The CBS boss added that the addition of streaming NFL games would give All Access a shot in the arm, before adding, "we're doing fine right now without it."

While CBS does not disclose the number of subscribers who have signed on for the OTT service since it launched a year-and-a-half ago, Jeffries analyst John Janedis estimates that the tally is close to 500,000. An All Access subscription costs $5.99 per month and allows users in as many as 125 local markets to live-stream the CBS linear TV feed on their tablets, PCs and smart phones.

Should CBS nail down a streaming deal with the NFL, demand for All Access will likely accelerate among the younger cord-cutter/-shaver set. But even if an agreement can't be reached before this fall -- the NFL would only say that it is "always evaluating opportunities to expand the ways our fans can access our content" -- CBS has another shiny lure in the works in the upcoming "Star Trek" revival. Created by Bryan Fuller, the untitled series will premiere on CBS in January 2017 before moving exclusively to All Access.

"We know there are millions of big, big fans who will sign up for ['Star Trek'], and that's only the beginning of our intent to continue to produce more and more original programming to go on All Access," Mr. Moonves said. "I don't know how many people are going to shift from the 180-channel [bundle] to 15 channels to All Access, but the more that do, the more money we make."

Mr. Moonves also addressed CBS's new-look "Thursday Night Football" package, which was reduced somewhat in scope with the addition of NBC as a mid-season partner. "Look, we selfishly wanted it for ourselves. But frankly, with the price going up the way it went, we were sort of happy with our five-game schedule," he said. "Football, overall, is profitable and obviously it brings so many other things … and when we're negotiating for retrans, reverse comp, nobody can live without the NFL." (Earlier in the discussion, Mr. Moonves characterized the NFL as "the biggest hammer you can possibly have" when negotiating with pay-TV distributors.)

CBS and NBC split the difference in the two-year, $450 million "TNF" rights deal, which works out to $45 million per game. Under the terms of its previous deal, CBS paid around $37.8 million per game.

CBS's eight-game 2015 "TNF" package averaged 17.5 million viewers and a 10.9 household rating, making it the No. 2 most-watched and highest-rated NFL prime-time suite behind only NBC's "Sunday Night Football." Simulcast on NFL Network, the "TNF" games were up 5% compared to the inaugural season (16.8 million viewers, 10.4 household rating).

Based on buyer estimates of the average cost of a 30-second slice of ad time, CBS last year booked around $219.7 million in "TNF" in-game inventory. Naturally, the Sunday "NFL on CBS" package is the real money maker; between the network's weekly regional coverage and eight late-national games, CBS's weekend football slate is believed to have generated nearly half-a-billion dollars in ad sales revenue.

Looking beyond the sports marketplace, Mr. Moonves said he's looking forward to a "much, much stronger upfront" than that which CBS and the rest of the TV universe endured in 2015-16. "We took in a little less [dollar] volume than we would've liked last year, but as it happened, because the scatter was so strong, it ended up being a real blessing for us," he said. "I don't think advertisers are going to make the same mistake, where they wait and have to buy in October what they could have bought in June for 20% less. So, we're anticipating a very, very strong upfront. We can't wait."