Why it will cost $350 to watch the NFL on your iPhone

by Eric Benderoff

The NFL appears set to offer a streaming package of games for computers and smartphones, but the program is unlikely to appease most fans. Lining up in a different media formation, Angry Birds may land on your TV.

NFL on your iPhone

Football fans may get a little closer to the dream of watching any NFL game from anywhere this season, as DirecTV is expected to soon announce a new package for people who want to watch games on their computers or smartphone. But there's a big catch: You must live in an area where you cannot access DirecTV's satellites.

The streaming program is based on a trial in New York City, where many condo boards do not allow satellite dishes to dangle from their building or getting a southern exposure (necessary for DirectTV transmission) is challenging. For those people, a special package was offered to stream NFL games. Now, according to this story in the USA Today, DirecTV plans to roll this 'hardship' program out across the country.

It is unclear at this point what the exact rules will be and what devices will be offered, but this seems certain: it will cost $350.

That leads to this question: If it will cost me $350 to stream NFL games onto a PC or mobile phone, why must I get it through DirecTV (or because I can't get DirecTV)? Shouldn't everyone have access at that ridiculously high price? The reason, of course, is money. More specifically, the money the NFL gets from its TV partners.

Major League Baseball can offer all of its games via the superb $15 MLB At Bat app, because the TV contracts revolve around local stations. The Yankees have the most money to spend on players because they generate enormous revenues through local TV. The Kansas City Royals, not so much. MLB can then package these local contracts and offer them through an app or a special cable TV package. Local markets get a cut and fans are happy. You can also watch streamed video of NBA and NHL games.

The NFL's deals are completely different and not about to change. The major networks -- Fox, CBS, NBC and ESPN -- spend billions of dollars each year for the right to broadcast NFL games nationally. Because of the money, the NFL strictly controls how games are shown. The set-up is not intended to appease fans, it is designed to keep the network partners happy.

DirecTV's deal is separate, but also hugely profitable for the NFL. The current deal runs through the 2014-15 season and pays the NFL about $700 million annually. It allows DirecTV to offer Sunday Ticket, which costs fans $300 per season, as an exclusive package for DirecTV subscribers. Cable providers such as Comcast are chomping at the bit to get at this deal; instead, the NFL offers the Red Zone channel to appease them.

The bottom line: the NFL will not anger its TV partners, ever, even if it could offer fans a $500 a year package to watch games from anywhere or any device. It is estimated that the NFL's TV partners pay the league a combined $3.7 billion to $5 billion annually to show the games. Hence, only a limited number of fans will be offered DirecTV's streaming service.

Of course, accessing NFL content on your iPhone does not have to be costly if you don't need to watch the games. Here's a list of apps to enjoy the NFL, plus a list of fantasy football apps to consider -- that is, if you're serious about winning your league.

Angry Birds on TV

A final note about television. It appears the popular iPhone game, Angry Birds, is about to get the pop culture smack down. Variety reports that Finnish game-maker Rovio "wants to turn the property into a major franchise that crosses over to other platforms -- from TV shows and movies to toys and comic books."

Angry Birds has been downloaded more than 6.5 million times. In the game, "players use a slingshot to help a flock of animated birds destroy a group of evil pigs who stole their eggs," Variety writes. (I had to use that game description from the story, as I'm not one of the 6.5 million folks who have downloaded Angry Birds.)

The upshot is that Rovio feels it will be difficult to duplicate Angry Bird's success with another game, so instead it is trying to milk everything it can from this game in the hopes it can create a franchise property.

"It doesn't make sense (to produce a slate of different games) when you have a hit of any caliber," Mikael Hed, CEO of Rovio Mobile, told Daily Variety. "When you create brand equity, to do that again would be a difficult task rather than nurture and build around what you have."

If Rovio's plan works, this will create a new option in the mobile game-makers' playbook. (Sorry, it was impossible to ignore such as obvious football cliché.)