You can currently watch NFL games across 9 different streaming services without having to pay for a cable or satellite TV package. But you still can’t beat the decades-old TV antenna for its value.
There are only two kinds of TV channels that are keeping the cable package tethered to customers – live sports and news.
The average cable bill in 2023 is $118 per month. But the cost of streaming services that offer a full suite of cable TV and broadcast channels is creeping up. YouTube TV costs $72.99 per month. DIRECTV STREAM’s package that includes ESPN, broadcast channels and regional sports networks is $99.99 per month.
Hulu with Live TV is set to raise prices to $76.99 per month on Oct. 12, a $7 per month increase. On the lower side of the price spectrum, Sling TV is holding steady as the cheapest way to get ESPN at $40 per month.
Streaming services may still be cheaper than cable TV or satellite packages. But 2023 may mark the year where droves of NFL fans seek an alternative – even from the convenience of streaming.
The latest exodus from cable TV happened during the short-lived feud between the Walt Disney Company, owner of ESPN, and Charter Communications, the nation’s second-largest cable operator.
Disney encouraged Spectrum customers to sign up for Hulu with Live TV. Charter suggested that its customers get a free trial of Fubo. Roughly 500,000 people ditched cable while the dispute was happening over a two-week period in September, according to The New York Times.
ESPN’s greatest contribution to NFL fans comes once a week with Monday Night Football. This season the network is slated to air a record number of games, including 23 regular season games and two playoff games.
But most of the games during the NFL’s 18 week regular season are available for free to anyone with a decent TV antenna. The exception is MNF on ESPN.
Getting local NBC, CBS, FOX and ABC stations can be fairly easy for anyone who lives in or around the nation’s 210 television markets. These TV markets (or Designated Market Areas) were, by design, created to make broadcast channels available across public airwaves.
Even before the Disney-Charter dispute erupted, savvy cord-cutters were already making their move into free over-the-air (OTA) channels.
The Consumer Technology Association estimates that 36 million U.S. households (nearly one in three) currently own a TV antenna. That number is expected to increase to 40 million by 2027.
Almost 7.5 million TV antennas were sold in 2022, according to the CTA.
Since 2021, The E.W. Scripps Company has been busting a move into the OTA market. Scripps purchased ION Television in 2021. The company owns 8 national news and entertainment networks and 61 local TV stations.
Scripps made another major purchase in 2022. The company bought Nuvyyo Inc. for $14 million. The Canada-based company has been selling its Tablo DVRs, made specifically for over-the-air TV, for close to a decade.
Scripps’ fairly new sports division, Scripps Sports, has been pursuing local sports rights for MLB, NBA and NFL teams.
The slow-burn of cable sports is only moving in one direction. Regional sports networks will either disappear, or quickly re-shape their business model, to adjust to price-conscious sports fans.
Will all these changes mean a return to watching a local team with a TV antenna? Nobody really knows. But it’s worth mentioning that Scripps inked a deal for local broadcast rights to Golden Knights games and the Big Sky Conference in 2022.
The current agreements for the National Football League will keep its games on cable for years to come, The Times noted. But most NFL games are already available for free thanks to the public airwaves.