Saturday’s AFC Wild Card game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins wasn’t the first streaming exclusive for Peacock, but it was certainly the biggest.
NBCUniversal and Comcast say the game was the most-streamed live event ever in the U.S., with a total audience of 27.6 million viewers, per Nielsen. That’s just shy of the viewership of the Browns-Texans AFC Wild Card game, which aired on broadcast television, capturing 29 million viewers.
It also set an overall internet record, with the network saying 30% of all internet traffic during the game was being consumed by Peacock, more than any online event in history.
Those are feats worth bragging about, certainly, but they didn’t come without controversy.
All of the conditions were right for this to be must-see TV for NFL fans. Kansas City, last year’s Super Bowl champions, were at risk of being eliminated from this season’s playoffs. The game was being played in the harshest of conditions, with wind chill temperatures of -27. And Taylor Swift was in attendance, which always brings a viewership boost from her army of fans.
So when some people realized that to watch the game, they’d have to subscribe to Peacock (at a rate of $6 per month), some tempers began to flare.
The furor even reached New York congressman Pat Ryan, who wrote “It’s a disgrace. Fans already face exorbitant prices to watch every game during the regular season; they don’t deserve to be squeezed even further by greedy corporations. This bait-and-switch is particularly egregious for consumers who already pay for NBC as part of their cable package. … Congress granted the NFL an antitrust exemption in its broadcast deals with the expectation that you wouldn’t use it to screw over fans. That was clearly a mistake.”
Ryan’s words did not convince the league to air the game nationally via broadcast television, however. (As for the bait-and-switch accusations, the league announced Peacock would exclusively stream one of the playoff games last May.)
Peacock previously exclusively carried the Bills-Chargers game on December 23—and the league has exclusively streamed Thursday night games on Amazon virtually all season (with the exception of Thanksgiving). The playoffs get more attention, though, which is part of the reason the protests over this particular streaming deal were more pronounced.
Don’t expect the league to back away from these sorts of exclusives, however. For one thing, they’re a big income generator. NBC paid a reported $110 million to make the playoff game a Peacock exclusive. (On Sunday, NBC aired the Lions/Rams game on both its broadcast channels and Peacock.) Also, as linear television viewership declines and streaming subscriptions become more common, the NFL argues it’s simply delivering the product to fans via services they use.
“We couldn’t be prouder of our partnership with Peacock and are thrilled with the results of the first-ever exclusively live streamed NFL playoff game,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in a statement. “To best serve our fans, we need to ensure games are available to them as their viewing habits change and this includes digital distribution as we continue to help shape the future of the sports and entertainment industry.”