CBS will stream several NFL games for free this season, no TV subscription required

Riding the streaming wave.
Riding the streaming wave.
Image: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
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Some said American football on the internet would never happen. The NFL and the major broadcast TV networks have one of the strongest business relationships in the world, and neither party would do anything to jeopardize that. Well, it appears that’s changing, perhaps faster than anyone thought.

CBS announced today (Sept. 1) that it will stream multiple regular-season NFL games, four playoff games, and the Super Bowl, for free, without requiring a subscription to cable TV. The games will be available on computers and tablets as well as streaming devices like Xbox One, Apple TV, and Roku.

First on the streaming slate will be the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins in London on Oct. 4. Then CBS Sports will stream the Carolina Panthers vs. Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26.

This comes only a few months after the NFL announced that Yahoo will provide the first-ever free, global stream of a regular-season NFL game (between the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills on Oct. 25, also to be played in London). Both the NFL and CBS seem willing to experiment with these relatively low-profile London contests, especially given that the league is keen to expand overseas and is already targeting viewers outside the US and Mexico with an international streaming package.

But for the most part, fans of the sport in the US are stuck paying for cable TV subscriptions (or signing up for DirecTV’s pricy NFL Sunday Ticket) if they want to watch NFL games. Other broadcast networks like Fox and NBC make some games available for streaming, but those require proof that you subscribe to a pay-TV provider.

What’s clear is that the networks now fear losing NFL viewers to cord-cutting, and are increasingly finding ways to put games online without threatening the existing infrastructure. It’s likely we’ll see more and more games find their way online—NBC and Fox could follow CBS’s lead. That said, the whole landscape isn’t going to change overnight. If you’re thinking this means pay TV’s stranglehold on America’s most popular sport is in serious jeopardy—think again. The networks have a $5-billion-per-year deal with the NFL that runs through 2022.