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The NFL's new digital network is a step forward, but still not what cord-cutters want

Edgar Alvarez, @abcdedgar
February 3, 2014
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Many people were excited by the announcement that this year's Super Bowl would be streamed online. But this came with a catch on smartphones -- the need to go through Verizon's NFL Mobile service rather than the Fox Sports Go app. And that's nothing new, as most networks often require some sort of subscription for access to live or on-demand content. A&E, CNN, MTV, NBC Sports -- they all do it, and the list goes on and on.

Last week, the NFL announced Now, its new network tailored for the era of the internet. However, despite the league trying to do something novel, a quick look at the comments from our recently published article about the release tells you that on-demand content isn't enough, particularly for those who have decided to cut the [pay-TV] cord. For those people, the lack of live games overshadows most everything NFL Now will bring to the table when it launches in July -- namely, an online channel with a personalized experience accessible on different platforms all over the world.

While there won't be any games to stream live, NFL Now will have them available a la carte. Although that is, indeed, a nice option, it's just not one avid football fans are pleased with. The NFL does have a couple of solutions for this, but they are attached to either Verizon or DirecTV, and therein lies the main problem. (Of course, services like Aereo do exist, but that won't match the all-things-football type of immersion that you'll get with NFL Now.) Accordingly, and not surprisingly, Yahoo, Microsoft and Verizon were involved in the presentation of NFL Now, which goes to show that the NFL wasn't willing to tackle its new venture alone and without the help of these A-list players.

"This new digital offering provides our trusted partners and sponsors a valuable new vehicle to reach our passionate fan base," said the NFL in a statement. Put simply, Yahoo will offer integration with Screen; Microsoft's going to have apps across its platforms; and Verizon is said to be a very important partner in the distribution process of Now, which it plans to deliver to subscribers using its new LTE Multicast tech. Despite the real-time shortcomings of NFL Now, the digital network won't depend on cable providers for anything else -- full games on demand, original programming, news and live press conferences will be available to everyone, cord-cutter or not.

When asked if we could ever expect live games to come to NFL Now, a few league representatives told us... well... nothing. It was one of those ubiquitous "no comment" questions. In the end, the NFL is a business, and that's a rather key factor to remember. It needs Comcast, Time Warner Cable, DirecTV, U-Verse, Dish, Verizon and many others as much as they need it -- but, if only for the sake of folks who've made a choice to leave cable TV behind, let's hope the mutual reliability doesn't last forever. And believe, because there is hope.
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