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NFL plans Internet-only national broadcast of game

Fans not in the teams' home markets will have to tune to an as-yet-unchosen Internet company to catch this season's game between the Jags and Bills.

YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

The NFL is planning to give the ball to the Internet next season.

The National Football League intends to sell the national digital distribution rights of a regular season game this year to an Internet company, an NFL representative confirmed Monday. The move represents the first time that pro football fans will have to look somewhere other than TV to watch a game broadcast.

"This marks the first time the NFL will use a distributor other than a television network for a national game," said Brian McCarthy, vice president of communications for the NFL.

While the October 25 game between the between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Buffalo Bills will still be broadcast on free over-the-air channels in the teams' home markets, fans in other markets will only be able to watch it on the Internet. The game will not be made available to subscribers of DirecTV's Sunday Ticket programming package, which broadcasts all out-of-market games nationally.

The digital rights for the game are being shopped around to major Internet companies, such as YouTube or Facebook, according to The Wall Street Journal, which first reported the move. No distributor has been chosen, McCarthy said, and it's not clear when the bids are due. Representatives for YouTube and Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The move may represent the beginning of a new distribution channel for the NFL, which has long relied on TV to reach fans and generate sizable revenue. The NFL inked new nine-year broadcast contract extensions with CBS, FOX and NBC that will reportedly earn the league an estimated $3 billion to $4 billion a year. (Disclosure: CBS is the parent company of CNET.)

The NFL has long sought to expand the reach of its games beyond traditional over-the-air broadcasts. In 2003, the NFL launched its NFL Channel, which three years later began broadcasting regular season games played on Thursdays, as well as draft coverage and documentaries.

The week seven game -- being played at London's Wembley Stadium -- is scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. ET.