On the eve of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the NHL and Hulu announced that they’ve reached a partnership deal. Much like the NBA and MLB — which both partner with YouTube –, the playoffs and finals will be brought to fans by a digital distribution company.
There’s little doubt that these companies will be major players when it comes to distribution rights in the future. It simply doesn’t make sense for companies with the ability to bid on and distribute content to only sign partnership deals. The partnership deals are a traditional marketing play, but they also can be used as a test run for future relationships.
Right now, Hulu will be streaming content on NBC’s channels. Hulu is essentially acting as a cable service provider. The company is simply a service that provides a gateway to the content. It’s not Hulu exclusive by any means.
The difference is that Hulu produces its own content. In the future, it may be more beneficial for the NHL — or other leagues — to slice and dice its content rights to have an exclusive traditional television partner and a separate and exclusive streaming partner. The traditional companies that own the television channels won’t exactly be happy with that. They have their own streaming apps with content behind a verification wall.
The idea is to get people comfortable with sports and cord cutting. It makes fans associate playoff series with a streaming brand. There are still issues. One of the biggest problems is the streaming delay. There is always a lag — sometimes only a few seconds, sometimes it’s more than a minute — when compared to traditional television. In the world of multi-screen consumption, that can be a problem. If Twitter is beating streams — in terms of reaction and reporting –, it actually limits the touchpoints for consumers as opposed to increasing it. No one wants to know what happens before seeing it on their streaming provider.
The NFL is the last major sport without a presenting sponsor for its playoffs and championship. They can’t be that far behind the NBA, NHL, and MLB. It’s fine for a league to try and play the traditional card, but owners and people concerned with extra revenue streams are leaving money on the table.
Eventually, these types of non-traditional sponsorships become accepted in the mainstream. There’s been very little backlash to the NBA throwing sponsor patches on jerseys. The YouTube/MLB partnership was only an issue for diehard fans last year, and even that noise was limited.
Nothing can happen in regards to distribution rights in the major U.S. sports until 2022, but that doesn’t mean these streaming companies can’t start educating and indoctrinating fans earlier. There will be a backlash if one of these leagues decides to move strictly to a streaming service, but money generally talks. It probably won’t happen right away as there are still issues with connectivity and reach.These deals just a first step.