How to never stop watching football this Thanksgiving

By | 3 minute read | November 20, 2017

Growing up, freelance editor Glenn Gapultos said, all his family and friends loved football. So when it came time for Thanksgiving dinner at the Gapultos house, naturally, watching the NFL was always a signature event.

“The TV was always on in the background in the living room. And at some point we’d gather around the TV to eat and watch the game,” Gapultos said.

Today, football is still a huge part of his family’s Thanksgiving celebration. But in the last few years, the holiday football tradition has changed with the advent of one crucial technological innovation: streaming TV.

“A lot of my friends are dads now. If they have to change a diaper, they’ll probably get the game on their phone and keep watching. If they have to leave the house to do an errand, they’ll keep up with it on an app or stream on their phones,” he said.

They’re not the only ones. Increasingly, fans are turning to live streaming to watch pro football games. Last year, 2.3 million people watched the first livestream of an NFL game on Twitter. This year, 1.9 million watched Amazon’s first NFL livestream. According to Nielsen, a quarter of Americans have streamed live programming, including sports events. Content delivery network and cloud services provider Akamai predicts that 500 million viewers will soon be watching prime-time live sports online. That’s part of a larger surge in streaming activity that’s straining network capacity, causing many businesses to reinvent their networks with AI and cloud technologies.

“The days of watching TV where people watch at a specific time and nailed to a specific schedule — those days have ended,” said Brian Fitzsimmons, a sports media producer and author.

Indeed, Thanksgiving football viewership these days doesn’t just happen on couches in living rooms across America. It happens at dinner tables and in bathrooms, in kitchens and even outside the home. It happens virtually everywhere.

“You can have the phone under the table, or watch the game from a different room and not be glued to the living room,” said Corinne Tisei, a global digital strategist for IBM Industry Marketing. “We’re a big sports family so everyone understands it. I imagine some families get annoyed by it, but for us it’s just kind of funny.”

Live streaming doesn’t just change where games are viewed, it changes how they’re viewed. Rather than a singular event that requires an extended period of time around a TV set, Thanksgiving football can now be consumed in smaller spurts in between interacting with family or even preparing dinner.

SportsPickle editor DJ Gallo said many sports fans he knows have made the jump to streaming. But cable TV, he said, still has its advantages. Many sports associations block streaming of certain games in certain regions, for one. Lives streaming, moreover, often lags behind cable broadcasts. According to Wowza Media Systems, sports live streams are delivered to some viewers with “up to 90 seconds of latency.” For many sports fans who simultaneously follow games in real time on social media, that can be a big problem.

“It’s like non-stop spoilers,” Gallo said. “I love everything about streaming, except when it comes to live sports. There’s something lacking there.”

That’s one reason why many fans who love streaming football will still end up watching the game to some extent on the big screen, even as they stream on their phone or tablet.

For those viewers, the question of how best to watch football doesn’t require a showdown between cable and streaming. Both options have their perks and their downsides, they say, but together, they add up to a fantastic viewing experience.

“What streaming and having second screen experiences have produced is giving people options,” Fitzsimmons said.

If fans are looking for a winner-takes-all competition, meanwhile, all they have to do is look to the football field.