NFL Debuts Preseason Streaming Powered by NeuLion

For the first time, the NFL will offer live streaming of its preseason slate of games. The NFL Preseason Live service offers all out-of-market preseason games that are not nationally televised with the league’s television partners. For $39.99, subscribers can watch more than 50 preseason games live and on-demand.

Having already worked with NeuLion on NFL Game Pass HD (the league’s international live game-streaming service), NFL Game Rewind (game replay and highlights package), and NFL Audio Pass (live streaming game audio), the NFL once again tapped its long-time streaming partner to build the Preseason Live service.

“The NFL has always had the digital rights for preseason, but they’ve never offered them to U.S. subscribers,” says Chris Wagner, EVP/co-founder of NeuLion. “We’ve built so many great products with them internationally, so, for this season, we decided to go after the preseason with a subscription bundle for about 40 bucks.”

A Primetime Player for Preseason Football
The Flash-based video player can achieve HD resolution under ideal connections and features NeuLion’s adaptive-bitrate technology with streaming rates ranging from as high as 3 MBps to as low as 600 KBps. Users also have the option of turning this adaptive capability off in favor of a fixed-bitrate using option menus within the video player. The player builds on NeuLion’s work with the NFL’s regular-season Game Pass and Game Rewind products.

Subscribers can choose between the home or away broadcast audio feeds and view multiple games at once using picture-in-picture, or the “matrix” view option.

The player boasts full DVR and instant-replay functionality, allowing users to pause, rewind, and fast forward, skip back, navigate using a scrubber bar, and instantly go live with the touch of a button. Key moments in the game are noted along the scrubber bar by “Big Play Markers,” allowing the user to view these plays with a single click.

The service also features a host of player widgets that users can bring up on the player screen for stats, player profiles, and other information. Several fantasy-football–oriented features are also incorporated to help fans follow potential draftees.

“Everyone is starting to pick out their fantasy players, and we have all these player widgets that you can bring up to help with that,” says Wagner. “Or if you’re following your team from afar, as we get into the new season, you can go back and watch a preseason game you missed and turn the scores off. Or turn the scores on and just fast forward through it.”

A Feed From Each Affiliate
Most of the preseason slate does not fall under the NFL’s national TV deals, so games are usually produced and broadcast by local affiliates. NeuLion is responsible for taking all these feeds from around the country, delivering them to the appropriate data centers, and then sending them out to subscribers. The majority of the feeds are delivered via satellite, but some affiliates send the feed over fiber.

“We have to coordinate with each affiliate individually,” says Wagner. “Most of them use satellite and are uplinking from the truck right on the field. We’re pretty used to fiber because, on the college side, we did 25,000 live events last year that got delivered to us on the public Internet right out of the gym. But satellite is the easiest way and generally has higher quality, and it’s less expensive.”

NeuLion then encodes the feed for each game, using h.264, and transmits them through the NeuLion platform, where they are demuxed into various bitrates and delivered to subscribers.

Preseason on the Go?
Although NFL Preseason Live is not available on mobile devices, the NFL and NeuLion will look to make it available on the go in the future. Both the NFL and NeuLion have made a major push into the digital realm over the past year. The league has expanded its NFL Mobile package and will distribute its RedZone channel via its wireless deal with Verizon. NeuLion has also seen success with several of its mobile products, including NHL Ice Time, which is now available on iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, and other devices.

“We would absolutely be interested in taking this mobile,” says Wagner. “We are actively talking about that. Since we have the video on our platform, enabling it for a mobile device is already possible. You don’t have to go build something separately.”