NFL, here's your 2010 tech resolution: Make games easier to access on the Internet

After a season of staying glued to the TV for this year's NFL games, here's to hoping next season gets a lot more Internet-enabled.

Jets on Jetblue Scott Stein/CNET

On my way back from Vegas and the remains of CES 2010, I put my faith in JetBlue. As one of the few airlines with a nearly complete collection of TV networks viewable in midair, I knew back when I booked my flights months ago that, in the unlikely event of a Jets playoff game, a seat-back TV would be my only recourse in case the game fell on a Saturday. Of course, the impossible happened and I ended up watching the Jets-Bengals showdown on my miniature seat-mounted screen.

It was a great experience, especially with a flight full of cheering Jets fans (and a few disgruntled Giants/Bengals fans), but I wouldn't have been so lucky on Virgin America. Their spotty in-flight TV service had channels like MSNBC, but no NBC, and in-flight Wi-Fi would have been useless, since the NFL doesn't properly support Internet game-viewing.

At CES, when I saw Flo TV demonstrate its upcoming and very exciting collaboration with Mophie to bring live TV programming to the iPhone via a slip-on case, the representatives tried to entice me with promises of live sports. I knew better: the NBA, NHL, MLB, PGA, and NCAA football were all represented in some fashion, but not the NFL. No, not America's most popular sport: it's been locked up for years, and it doesn't make any sense.

To "officially" follow NFL games, you either have to subscribe to an audio stream from the NFL, follow on Sirius (although that doesn't work overseas via the Internet), or subscribe to DirecTV's NFL package and pay an additional fee for laptop/iPhone streaming via DirecTV Supercast, which costs $380. The DirecTV iPhone app, Supercast Mobile, is technically free, but it's useless without the subscription. You could also set up a Slingbox to your home television and watch on your PC or smartphone , but that would only enable one broadcast game in a local market, and requires both a good TV feed at home and the purchase of a Slingbox. Unofficially, a number of peer-to-peer streaming sites have spotty feeds set up from personal TV sets, which come and go as they're shut down.

Unfortunately, the illegal means are the best way for international travelers to get an NFL fix, since the only regular-season games that are streamed over the Internet at this point are NBC's Sunday Night broadcasts, and that's inside the U.S. I had to resort to scanning streaming sites while hunched over a Lenovo IdeaPad S12 when I was vacationing in Bavarian Germany, hoping to grab the Jets-Colts game.

What's absurd is that the NFL doesn't have a pay-per-view system set up on the Internet for individual broadcasts--rather than charge the whole hog, a fee per game could draw in a whole new audience of fans who would otherwise be forced to seek out the nearest sports bar with a satellite dish.

Every other U.S. sport has been more open and democratic about its access, but the NFL gets large chunks of money from entities that pay big for the exclusivity of their content (Sirius, DirecTV, EA, Sprint). Now, in all fairness, the NFL is also the only American sport you can watch nearly every local game of on TV without an extra cable subscription. But, beyond over-the-air, the NFL is an absurdly tight ship. My open request to the NFL: make your games available to stream and view individually. I have no idea if the result will be any more profitable than the deals that are already set up, but I don't care. Give me easy access. Grant me my wish by CES 2011, so I don't resort to terrible hacks when I'm in England.

Oh, and go Jets.

 

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