Q&A: Dan Cohen, senior vice-president, Global Media Rights Consulting, Octagon

NFL Game Pass is the fastest-growing single-sport OTT service in the world, targeting both casual and avid fans. Here, Daniel Cohen, senior vice-president of Global Media Rights Consulting, Octagon, explains why its global roll-out will not hit the value of NFL linear rights.

How would you rate Game Pass in terms of quality of content and user experience?

Every year the product improves across the board. It is important to note that the Game Pass product differs between its US offerings and its international offerings. Outside the US, live games can be viewed on Game Pass. In the US, live games are streamed through authenticated smart TVs, NFL Fantasy, Verizon/Yahoo, and Amazon on Thursday Night Football. NFL Redzone and NFL Network are also available, and that makes for a compelling suite of content offerings in addition to the VOD content available. However, it appears streaming and buffering issues are still a concern, sighting last week’s Super Bowl LIV outages in the first half for international viewers.

How important is it that the Game Pass offers several price points, from freemium to Pro? 

Essential, not just important. The NFL has done a good job in recognizing the infancy of the sport internationally. The NFL’s ability to super serve the die-hards with nearly unlimited access to content, both live and 24/7, while also providing new and emerging fans a smaller, more digestible content offering with no paywall at all, is critical to growing the sport. Building an international fan base for a very ‘US’ sport requires a fan-first mentality, and that is exactly what the NFL has been driving towards. 

The NFL has a short season. But the league needs people to sign up for a year (ideally) and not churn out in February. How much of a challenge is that?

While I can’t speak to specific churn rates for Game Pass, I agree that churn is an important concern. However, churn is top of mind for any and all direct to consumers – Netflix, Amazon, Apple TV and so on. The key to all streaming platforms is continuity in quality content that will increase average minute audience and total viewer hours, while reducing churn.

I would recommend a content strategy that focuses on NFL related localized content for Game Pass, which involves identifying a handful of key international markets, then working with local content producers to deliver locally relevant NFL content, and then eventually rolling the program out across many territories.

In most of the world outside the US, Canada and China, the service is distributed by OverTier, supported by Deltatre tech and Two Circles data and marketing. How much value does this Bruin triumvirate bring to the table? If, as reported, Bruin sells Deltatre, could that have a negative impact?

They say it takes a village, and the triumvirate you reference supports the size and scope of the opportunity to build an international NFL audience. Bruin has a deep-rooted history understanding the NFL, its commercial operations, and its senior leaders. When you combine that with specialized businesses across technology and marketing, you take to market a compelling patchwork of partners.

The greatest challenge will be balancing individual agency demands across their portfolio of clients and the demand of the NFL to grow its fans and revenue aggressively. While the transition stumbled initially and had issues with Super Bowl LIV, the product has generally performed well.

If the majority of tech challenges remain in the rearview, the pressure will be shifted towards Two Circles and their ability to drive awareness, identify fans, and drive subscribers.

I do not think there would be a concern about Bruin selling Deltatre, as any acquirer would recognize the value of the NFL partnership and ensure it remains a priority for the company’s new owners moving forward. That said, I would be surprised if the NFL did not negotiate a transfer of control clause in their agreement with Deltatre.

Our intelligence is that legacy broadcasters who have been traditional NFL partners are not concerned about Game Pass, do not see it as a threat, and are not using it in negotiations to force down licence fees. But could there be a time when there will be a tension between the two kinds of distribution? 

International broadcasters are coming around to the new reality that leagues, and even teams, are developing direct-to-consumer offerings. That said, this concept is still maturing in many international markets. Some broadcasters believe direct to consumer offerings will cannibalize their broadcasts. The simple answer is to incorporate a product like Game Pass into a larger NFL strategy and drive tune-in across both platforms.

The NFL has done a solid job communicating the opportunities to do so and working with their individual broadcast partners internationally to cross-promote the offerings. As long as this remains the path forward, both Game Pass and broadcast rights will grow in tandem.

What kind of numbers do you think Game Pass would need to hit before that becomes an issue?  

While the NFL has made strong progress growing their international audience, they are years away from this being an issue.

Given your knowledge of the NFL and its global markets, what kind of subs numbers (across all price points) do you think the NFL Game Pass could hit once the service is fully mature? 

I think markets like the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Australia, and China are key growth markets for the NFL and Game Pass. If the NFL can hit 40-50m subscribers internationally when fully mature, that would be a standout success.

This interview is part of SportBusiness’ coverage of NFL Game Pass. Return to the main feature here, or read the other Q&As below:

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