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DirecTV's NFL Sunday Online and TV's Future?

Premium video is no longer tied just to the box in your living room. Now DirecTV and the NFL are bringing NFL Sunday Ticket Games beyond just satellite TV subscribers, raising the question of whether web distribution cannibalizes or is additive to business. Now the satellite TV provider is rolling out a test in which cable customers in New York can pay $349 to watch Sunday games online. The test should be purely additive: the company isn't losing out on any football fans who were thinking about switching from their cable provider to DirecTV because the the broadband game access is only available to people who can't receive the satellite signals. But what can we expect when the test rolls out wide next year?

If this online-only option becomes available to a nation's worth of potential DirecTV customers, does the successful satellite TV company risk cannibalizing its business? There are plenty of reasons DirecTV doesn't have to worry about that -- like the fact that football fans desperate for access probably want to watch the game on their giant flat-screen, and not hunched over a laptop.

This does say a lot about how what we think of as "TV" consumption is being fractionalized and sold in a narrow-cast, targeted way. Will all premium video consumption be a la carte? If you could buy your favorite HBO show, your favorite Showtimeshow, and your favorite sports programming online the day they aired, would you need to pay for the whole cable package? So far people haven't been cancelling cable subscriptions, if anything satellite and cable TV is growing. This is a testament to the fact that Viacom offering its MTV Networks programming online (Comedy Central on Hulu, etc.) isn't affecting consumer behavior -- yet. But if all cable content were available a la carte then the content and cable providers could have a real problem, which is precisely why Time Warner and Comcast have launched a test for Jeff Bewkes "TV Everywhere" concept, and why it's attracted so many content partners so far.

DirecTV has a track record of luring in viewers with premium programming -- beyond just sports it secured NBC's "Friday Night Lights" months early. DirecTV has just more than 18 million subscribers, and some two million of them pay an extra $299 each season for access to the Sunday games on TV. An additional $100 buys a "Superfan" package that includes broadband access to the games. Hard-core football fans are certainly an appealing customer base. Comcast announced today it'll offer another football-centric channel, "NFL Red Zone" as part of its Sports Entertainment Package.

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