We live in an age where cable subscriptions are a dying breed, and online streaming of video content is becoming more and more popular. In 2013, net cable subscriptions fell for the first time ever. Cable and satellite subscribers continued to fall last year, and just last quarter alone the multi-channel television industry lost over a half million subscribers. With content providers like HBO, ESPN and a host of professional sports leagues offering their content independently from the cable/satellite companies via online streaming, it begs the question: when will the NFL finally offer a stand-alone streaming option without restrictions?
Well, this season we are getting one step closer to that reality. I'm optimistic that it will only be a matter of time before we get a subscription service like DirecTV's Sunday Ticket, as a true independent, stand-alone product. And here's why. Earlier this week, DirecTV announced that they would be expanding the streaming option of their popular NFL Sunday Ticket product to include any city in the United States, and over 300 college and university campuses for consumers who qualify (ie, live somewhere they can't get a satellite package). In DirecTV's contract extension with the NFL last year, it stipulated that they must make their Sunday Ticket package available to everyone that couldn't get DirecTV service, not just those in select cities or university campuses. This means, theoretically, anyone in the US should be able to get the Sunday Ticket package if they wanted, be it through DirecTV (if available) or as a stand-alone streaming option (if not available).
But here is where it gets interesting. Last month, bars and restaurants across the country banded together and filed a class-action lawsuit against DirecTV alleging antitrust violations regarding the exclusive Sunday Ticket deal. Earlier this summer, AT&T purchased DirecTV in a stunning move that would seemingly allow them to compete directly with Verizon in being able to offer customers a piece of the NFL. One has to wonder why anyone would want to buy DirecTV in a TV marketplace that is trending away from expensive cable/satellite bundles and increasingly towards streaming options like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO, Showtime and a whole host of others, not to mention the fact that they are dealing with a lawsuit to boot. The reason must be the exclusive agreement for Sunday Ticket. There is a potential goldmine with Sunday Ticket as a stand-alone streaming option, and with AT&T at the helm, they won't be forced to incentivize a failing satellite TV model with the Sunday Ticket package like DirecTV had to, because AT&T has a whole host of other products they offer, from telephone, cellphone, internet and satellite television. AT&T has an opportunity to completely change how the Sunday Ticket package is offered and sold.
It remains to be seen what AT&T will do with the Sunday Ticket package, and how "independent" DirecTV will be (or if they will even remain a brand name at all). But I'm encouraged by the following comments from the CEO of AT&T immediately after the buy-out:
We'll now be able to meet consumers' future entertainment preferences, whether they want traditional TV service with premier programming, their favorite content on a mobile device, or video streamed over the Internet to any screen.
So, I think it's only a matter of time until we see a service like Sunday Ticket (or the very service itself) offered independently of DirecTV without restrictions and without needing a satellite subscription. In the meantime, we can watch Vikings games online via the following, legal, ways:
NFL Game Pass - United States
This service is $99.99, which gets you live online streaming of Preseason games only, and on-demand streaming of all regular season games shortly after they air. It can also get you All-22 coaches film, and archives of all games dating back to 2009. Unfortunately, there are no live, regular season games with this service in the United States. If you are willing to wait until Sunday night to watch the games, the noon games will be available at the conclusion of the 3:00pm games (so around 6:00pm CST). Later games aren't available until the next day. It's a good product, but fails to give us live streams of games.
NFL Mobile - Verizon
This service is available exclusively to Verizon Wireless customers and costs $5/month. But starting last year, you can get access to live NFL games streamed on your phone (both Preseason and Regular season!). It's a much better deal than NFL Game Pass, but you have to be a Verizon customer, and you can only stream on your mobile phone (without the option to mirror cast to your TV unfortunately). But this includes only local games that you would get for free with your antenna anyway. So if you get good Verizon coverage, and that's an option in your area, then an NFL Mobile subscription could be an excellent legal option for you to stream some NFL games on the go.
NFL Sunday Ticket - DirecTV
This sports satellite package has been around for a long time, but beginning last year people who couldn't get DirecTV service were allowed to signup for the Sunday Ticket service without a satellite subscription. This was an extremely limited offering last season, covering only a few cities in the United States and a handful of university campuses nationwide. But as mentioned above, this season they are expanding it nationwide. You still have to "qualify" for the stand-alone streaming service: aka, live in an apartment building, college campus or rural area that does not have the option to subscribe to DirecTV service. If you live in a house or neighborhood that CAN get DirecTV service, then you are out of luck for the streaming service. In that case, if you want the Sunday Ticket package, then you also have to signup for a satellite package, but even then you can still technically stream the game too.
Streaming Channel Apps - No Bundle Subscription Required
There are a few other limited ways to watch NFL games online that involve Channel Apps. Dish Network has a new internet television service called SlingTV. For $20/month you get a handful of cable channels that are live streamed through your internet connection. You access those channels via a streaming app that is available on a variety of platforms like Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Android, iOS and others. This gives you an independent option to watch the Monday Night Football games without needing a cable or satellite subscription. For the Sunday Night games, if you don't already get the game for free on your OTA Antenna, you can visit NBC.com and watch the game online for free.
Streaming Channel Apps - Bundle Subscription Required
If you ARE a cable subscriber, you still have some legal streaming options available to you. WatchESPN is an app that will allow you to watch ESPN on any mobile device. You'll just have to login with your cable account information. NFL Network and NFL Redzone is available the same way. This isn't exactly a true streamable option, since it requires you to also pay for an expensive TV package. But it's still a way to stream live NFL games over the internet.
While there still isn't a legal way to live stream any NFL game to your television without restrictions, each year there are seemingly more and more options to access NFL games legally, over the internet. And I really believe it's only a matter of time until we have a service like Sunday Ticket available independently of an expensive cable/satellite bundle.
*Disclaimer: DO NOT and I repeat DO NOT promote illegal methods of streaming NFL games in the comments section of this article.