RealTime IT News

Are You Ready for Some (Real) Football?

In a deal that speaks volumes about the maturity of the online market for premium content, Seattle-based RealNetworks on Wednesday announced a partnership with pro football's NFL.com to hawk exclusive playoff and Super Bowl multimedia programming.

In what must be seen as a coup for the premium RealOne SuperPass service, the deal gives RealNetworks exclusive online rights to playoff programming at the league's SuperBowl.com site and four live 90-minute programs during Super Bowl week later in January.

It does not affect the play-by-play webcasts available for free at the NFL.com portal but it's not a stretch to imagine the league is paving the way for the launch of a pay-per-listen streaming service similar to those offered by MLB.com and NBA.com.

Both the pro baseball and basketball leagues have been been busy selling live play-by-play audio webcasts and industry watchers expect the NFL to follow suit, pointing to Wednesday's RealNetworks deal as the first step in that direction.

Officials at NFL.com could not be reached to discuss long-term plans, and a spokesman for SportsLine.com , which runs the Web operations for the league's 32 franchises, declined to comment.

According to RealNetworks, which also enjoys exclusivity on MLB.com, subscribers to the $10-per-month RealOne SuperPass service get access to multimedia content from SuperBowl.com in addition to the NFL Insider's Vic Carucci's Weekly Preview of upcoming games. SuperPass users also get a multi-media review of each prior week's most compelling playoff game.

During Super Bowl week (January 19-25), Real's paying subscribers will also access a live and on-demand 90-minute show produced by NFL Films -- to be webcast from Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, where the big game is being played this year.

NFL Films video highlights of all the playoff games will also be part of the subscription hook as well as exclusive coverage and access to members only webcasts during Super Bowl week, RealNetworks said.

To entice football fans into paying, SuperBowl.com will dangle some free offerings like Super Bowl Media Day on January 21. The Media Day Internet offering will include on-demand coverage of the players and coaches from the AFC and NFC Championship teams. Freeloaders will also get an NFL Films Super Bowl video of the day and two-minute archived highlights from Super Bowl I through XXXVI.

Real's SuperPass has developed a niche with paid sports programming, largely driven by deals with media outlets and content from pro and college sports organizations like MLB.com, NBA.com and NASCAR.com.