NEW YORK — The National Football League will begin offering Webcasts of games to broadband subscribers outside North America in November.
In a press conference here last week, the NFL called the launch a preliminary rollout that will eventually be expanded in 2001.
League representatives declined to name countries or the number of markets the NFL plans to enter this year. They also declined to predict audience sizes or to give a timetable for profitability.
Instead, they focused on the technical applications and fan-friendly features the league would use to turn international audiences into NFL football markets with the still-experimental sports broadcasting platform.
Tola Murphy-Baran, senior vice president of market development at the league, admitted that most sports Webcasting attempts have gone technically awry and have launched more fan frustration than anything else. However, she said those efforts lacked the NFL's multiple-point broadband technology to create streamed video with a resolution comparable to TV.
Also, the league was encouraged by test Webcasts in Singapore and Amsterdam last year.
“The Amsterdam test was full screen, and the audio and video synced perfectly,” said Brian McCarthy, NFL spokesman. “It was only open to subscribers of the service, so exact numbers are hard to come by, but technically it went off without a hitch. It gave us a great experience in knowing what will work in the future.”
In some markets, the games will be available in real time, while other parts of the world will get them archived the next day. The service will be available through cable providers that will offer viewers subscription packages to watch the games through set-top television or broadband-enabled computers.
The service offers viewers several features not available through regular TV.
For instance, fans will be able to watch two games at once as well as access team and player statistics throughout the Webcasts. Also, since many viewers will be unfamiliar with football rules, they will be able to access video/text explanations of player positions and game rules.
To make the service possible, the NFL penned agreements with multimedia services firm Fantastic Entertainment, Switzerland, and Internet streaming technology firm GlobalMedia.com, New York. Terms were not announced.
Murphy-Baran said the venture would generate revenue with ads, pay-per-view subscriptions and team/league merchandise that will be offered throughout the broadcasts.
The NFL expects international, regional and local advertisers to buy banners for the games. Subscription prices, on the other hand, will vary from country to country, Murphy-Baran said, and some regions that have little familiarity with American football may be offered the service for free.
“We don't expect the [Webcasts] to become a significant part of our revenue stream for some time to come,” she said. “We also think it's going to take us some time to get our feet wet with subscribers.”
The Webcasts will not be available to North Americans, protecting the terrestrial rights of the league's television providers, Fox and CBS. And while the NFL has television contracts in 192 countries, the league is working out co-marketing agreements with TV partners in countries subject to the November rollout to alleviate the networks' fears of losing market share because of the Webcasts.
Murphy-Baran added that the league is considering a broadband launch for its NFL Europe product.