In what is sure to make cable TV operators uneasy, NBC Universal says it will stream 11 hours of Super Bowl coverage — for free, and with no proof of a pay TV subscription required.

The move by NBC represents another step in the slow unravelling of the tight relationship between sports content owners and their traditional pay TV distribution partners.

Big content rights holders like NBC Universal, the National Football League, and Major League Baseball are increasingly interested in going straight to the consumer with their video content; most of the time, they require the consumer to “authenticate” with a pay TV username and password.

But this time-honored practice isn’t something that consumers — even cable subscribers — love, and it may soon lose favor.

The question of how long the current tie-up between video content owners and pay TV operators can last is a legitimate one. The Internet, of course, is completely changing the economics of video content distribution. Already there are signs that pay TV isn’t the only game in town for distributing big-time sports. A mobile company, Verizon, paid megabucks to the NFL in 2013 for the exclusive right to stream NFL games to Verizon mobile phones, including playoff games and the Super Bowl. That’s why you won’t be able to watch NBC’s free Super Bowl stream on any smartphone this year.

Pay TV players, meanwhile, are already being squeezed on both sides of the business model. Consumers have little tolerance for increased rates, while content partners continue to jack up licensing fees.

Still, sports is perhaps the main draw of pay TV. So pay TV operators like Comcast will spend whatever they can to hold onto sports content.

Meanwhile, the temptation of the NBCs and Viacoms of the world to go directly to consumers with content will only continue to grow. It’s a huge addressable market, and one that’s far easier to measure, segment, and target for advertisers than traditional TV audiences.

And the content that NBC will be giving away to consumers couldn’t be much bigger, to both consumers and the megabrands that love them.

NBC says its Super Bowl stream will include the game itself, the halftime show featuring Katy Perry, pre- and postgame shows where guys in blazers talk about football, and the midseason debut of The Blacklist.

Consumers accessing NBC Sports Live Extra and NBC.com during “Super Stream Sunday” will not have to authenticate, but they will have to deal with what NBC calls “consistent messaging in and around the experience about the ease in authenticating.”

The whole thing is part of the media conglomerate’s “Watch TV Without The TV” campaign, which is meant to give consumers a taste of NBC Universal online offerings.

The 11 hours of content will be live-streamed to desktops and tablets via NBC Sports Live Extra, NBC Sports Digital’s live streaming product, NBC says.

Desktop viewers will access the stream at NBCSports.com/liveextra. Mobile users will need to grab the NBC Sports Live Extra app, which is available at the App Store for iPad and iPod Touch, on select devices within Google Play, and on Windows phones and tablets.