Why Is Fox Letting Cord-Cutters Watch the Super Bowl for Free?

By Daniel B. Kline Markets Fool.com

In general, cable companies have been protective over the must-watch live events that offer experiences that digital streaming services can't duplicate. Things like the Oscars and Sunday NFL football, as well as other sporting events and awards shows, are among the few viewing experiences that Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX), Hulu, and even DISH (NASDAQ: DISH) Sling subscribers can't get.

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Nearly every scripted program of note airs either after a 24-hour delay on Hulu or after a longer period of time on Netflix or another streaming option. That gives people precious little reason to continue paying for a full, traditional cable subscription. In theory, that makes an event like the Super Bowl -- the most-watched program of the year barring something exceptional happening -- very important for the broadcast network airing it.

Thus you might think that the companies paying billion for rights to the game would zealously protect that exclusive. But in reality, CBS (NYSE: CBS) let people stream the game for free last year and Twenty-First Century Fox (NASDAQ: FOX) plans to do the same as the New England Patriots take on the Atlanta Falcons in the 2017 Super Bowl.

The broadcast network will offer a live stream of the Super Bowl on its FOX Sports GO streaming platform. Anyone who wants to watch the big game will be able to do so on FOXSportsGo.com, using iOS, Android, Windows, and Amazon tablets or through connected devices, including Apple TV, Roku, Android TV, Chromecast, Amazon Fire, and XBOX One. No credentials or login will be required.

Houston's NRG Stadium will host Super Bowl LI. Image source: Visit Houston.

Why is Fox doing this?

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Instead of using the Super Bowl as an exclusive to make a cable subscription more valuable, Fox has decided to use the game to increase exposure for its streaming platform. That's a potentially large audience as for last year's Super Bowl, an average of 1.4 million people per minute streamed the Super Bowl, according to Recode.

Nearly 4 million unique viewers streamedsome part of the pre-game, game, or post-game coverage, according to the website. In addition, those viewers were not just casual fans popping in for a minute or two, as average viewing time was 101 minutes.

In addition to providing exposure for FOXSportsGo.com, streaming the Super Bowl will also allow Fox to sell more ads. The network has partnered with its affiliates to sell integrated local advertising that will air on both the televised and digital versions of the game.

"As part of the buildup to this year's Super Bowl, we're committed to creating the best possible experience for fans by dramatically expanding the ways and places in which they can watch the game," saidFox Sports President Eric Shanks in a press release. "Our pioneering collaboration with our affiliates to allow streaming local ad insertions will make commercials even more relevant for viewers and help make this year's game even more of a personal experience for every fan."

Fox is accepting the future

Fox, and CBS last year, have seemingly accepted that some percentage of their audience is going to cut the cord and drop traditional cable. Instead of desperately trying to forestall that, the broadcast networks have instead decided to try to grab a piece of the streaming pie alongside Netflix, Hulu, Sling, and other players.

Using the Super Bowl as an invitation to get people to sample FOXSportsGo.com makes sense. People may not deal with figuring out how to use a new service for an obscure sporting event or something they might watch a few minutes of, but the Super Bowl serves as enough of a draw to be worth the hassle.This is a very smart play that should help the brand remain relevant even as the cable universe shrinks.

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Daniel Kline has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Netflix. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.