Breaking Down Amazon’s First Thursday Night Football Stream

A week ago, Amazon live streamed the first of 11 NFL regular season games to its Prime members as the Green Bay Packers trounced the Chicago Bears. Though the broadcast experienced minor buffering issues across web and mobile along with some consumers being booted from the Prime Video app, the inaugural stream “seemed to go off without any major glitches,” according to Matt Hill, Senior Vice President of Global Sports and Entertainment Consulting at GMR Marketing.

The NFL reported an average worldwide audience of 372,000 viewers, beating Twitter’s first live stream from a year ago. The 11-year-old social platform, which paid a reported $10 million for 10 Thursday Night Football games in 2016, totaled just 243,000 average viewers who watched for at least 30 seconds. Still, from a total audience perspective, Twitter exceeded that of Amazon for the game alone, with the former reaching 2.1 million viewers and the latter saying 1.6 million users initiated a stream.

“The 372,000 number stood out to me the most, just given the fact that it was behind a paywall,” said Daniel Cohen, Senior Vice President of Octagon’s newly-formed Global Media Rights Consulting division. “This says to me that Amazon did a really good job of marketing it, that Amazon did a really great job of letting its Prime members and the general NFL fan know.”

Despite the modest over-the-top viewership numbers, they are still being dwarfed by that of linear, which saw 14.6 million viewers tune in for last Thursday’s game.

Added Hill, whose NFL clients at GMR have included Comcast, MillerCoors and U.S Bank, among others: “It seemed like a solid debut (for Amazon and the NFL). In general, those numbers were fairly comparable to Twitter. I think we’ll continue to see growth in the numbers. It’s still a very nascent area for the league and its streaming partners.”

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GMR’s Hill said that with the Amazon-NFL streaming partnership — which reportedly was signed for $50 million, including $30 million in free marketing — it fills a significant content hole in the Amazon value proposition: live sports content.

Beyond the 11 Thursday Nigh Football games, though, both Hill and Cohen suggested that at its core the content partnership is not only a vehicle to capture consumer insights but grow the Amazon Prime membership base that currently stands at roughly 85 million.

“Amazon is a data company, first and foremost,” Hill said. “This NFL partnership provides them with a totally new source of data.”

Added Hill: “If they get this model right with the NFL, I wouldn’t be surprised if the NFL went off to work with a Facebook or a YouTube next year as they continue to prime the pump with these different OTT platforms. Ultimately, Amazon must see this as an opportunity to put themselves firmly in the mix for the new round of broadcast agreements (in the early 2020s).

Cohen speculated that “driving Prime subscriptions” is the “ultimate metric” that Amazon will measure itself against. Whether relationships such as the one with the NFL leads to more bidding for live U.S. sports content remains to be seen.

Over the next 10 Thursday Night Football games on Prime, including the second one tonight between the New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cohen said he’s looking for “more innovation,” whether that’s on how sponsorships are woven into the Amazon broadcast versus what’s seen on CBS, NBC and NFL Network or some experimentation with its tailgate-themed pre-game show featured former NFL running back Tiki Barber. Even recreating the viewership experience with “Amazon drone camera angles” or a creative Whole Foods integration, given Amazon’s $13.7 billion acquisition in August, is an area of focus for the sports executive.

“As they get more games under their belt and they button up all of the streaming issues, even though it seems like they’ve overcome a lot of those already, I’d like to see how Amazon produces a new way of watching and engaging in live sports video content,” Cohen added.

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About Mark J. Burns

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