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First streaming-only NFL Playoff game breaks records with 23 million viewers

The NFL playoffs started this past weekend, and with it came the first streaming-only playoff game. Usually, premium NFL games like the playoffs are on one of the major TV networks nationwide, but the Dolphin/Chiefs wildcard game was exclusively available on Comcast/NBC’s Peacock streaming service outside. NFL fans weren’t particularly happy about having to sign up for some random streaming service to watch a playoff game, but that didn’t stop many people from actually signing up, with Nielsen logging 23 million average streaming viewers for the game.

NBC says that 23 million viewers make the game “the most streamed event ever in US history” and “a milestone moment in media and sports history.” Nationally, the game was exclusively on Peacock, but local TV broadcasts were still available in the Miami and Kansas City metro areas, so 27.6 million people watched the game. The NFL hasn’t announced the ratings for the other playoff games yet, but last year, the wildcard round averaged 28.4 million viewers per game, so this got in range of that. On paper, this was one of the better games of the weekend, featuring the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and the high-flying Dolphins’ offense, and it was in prime time, so with a traditional broadcast, this was probably due for above-average ratings. Peacock exclusivity reduced the audience somewhat, but it still attained NFL-class numbers.

Surprisingly, Peacock managed to survive pretty well. There aren’t widespread reports out there of major problems. Previously, the service had an exclusive regular-season game, a Bills-Chargers week 16 matchup on December 23 that drew 7.2 million viewers. That game helped work out the growing pains for Peacock, with users complaining of poor streaming quality and muted colors.

The NFL is basically the only institution keeping traditional broadcast TV alive. Of the top 100 highest-rated US TV broadcasts in 2023, a staggering 93 of them were NFL games. Lucrative TV contracts will keep most games on broadcast TV for the foreseeable future, but even the NFL is slowly transitioning to streaming. The weekly Thursday Night Football game is now exclusive to Amazon Prime; ESPN+ gets one exclusive game per season, and Peacock has these two games this year. The biggest NFL package, NFL Sunday Ticket, which gives fans about 13 out-of-market games every Sunday, moved from DirecTV to YouTube TV this season. The NFL even has its own streaming platform, NFL+, though it takes a backseat to partner services.

Fans looking to watch the game on Peacock this weekend were forced to fork over $5.99 for “one month” of the service. With the numbers the game turned in, it doesn’t seem like the NFL streaming transition will be slowing down any time soon.

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