Peacock-exclusive NFL wild card game broke US livestreaming records

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A hot potato: Sunday’s NFL Wild Card Game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Miami Dolphins had all of the ingredients for an unforgettable playoff match. It also set precedent for future high-profile sporting events to be locked behind a paywall, and not everyone is happy about it.

The win-or-go-home stakes were more than enough for most diehard football fans, but it was also in the primetime Sunday night time slot as the only game of the evening. You also had the defending Super Bowl champs trying to reach the big game once again, absolutely frigid playing conditions (the wind chill was around -24 Fahrenheit at kickoff) and Taylor Swift mania.

Sounds great, right? Well, the game wasn’t free to watch like it has been for years unless you lived in one of the team’s two local markets. The matchup was streamed exclusively on Peacock, a not-so-common streaming service that starts at $5.99 per month. That’s right, it was essentially a pay-per-view NFL game.

Fans were miffed, and wasted no time airing their grievances on social media. This wasn’t the first game to air exclusively behind a paywall as NFL Sunday Ticket has been around for a while now for out-of-market games, and the NFL has been showing Thursday night games on Prime for a few years.

Me watching the Chiefs game through my neighbor’s window cause I didn’t want to pay for @peacock

– Armel (@Armelgeddon) January 14, 2024

I’m just going to go ahead and say it. The Chiefs – Dolphins game being only available on @peacock is totally ridiculous and a slap in the face to loyal @NFL fans that can’t afford an additional streaming service. And yes, I have peacock. But I hate this move. Awful for fans.

– Chris Santos (@SantosCooks) January 12, 2024

This felt different, however, as it was a one-off game, high-stakes that wasn’t heavily advertised until the weekend of. Lots of people already have Amazon for its other perks, and NFL Ticket is more than just one game. What’s more, the game has historically been free to watch (over the air).

Despite all the criticism, it would seem as if the experiment was an overwhelming success.

In a joint press release, NBC and the NFL said the game reached 27.6 million total viewers per Nielsen to become the most-streamed event ever in the US. Viewership peaked at an average of 24.6 million viewers in the second quarter, and it’s no surprise that Sunday was also the largest single day ever in Peacock history.

NBC reportedly paid the NFL $110 million for the exclusive streaming rights, and we learned late last year that Peacock finished out 2023 with 30 million subscribers. We don’t know how many additional subs the service picked up just for the NFL game but if they can manage to convert even a small percentage of the new eyes, the deal and all the criticism that came with it will likely have been worth it.

Image credit: Jay Biggerstaff, Reuters

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