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Amazon’s ‘Thursday Night Football’ begins a new era of streaming for the NFL

Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs
Jamie Squire | Getty Images Sport | Getty Images

To the joy and frustration of football fans across the United States, the era of National Football League games appearing exclusively on a streaming service is upon us.

Amazon Prime Video is the home for “Thursday Night Football” this upcoming season, marking the first time in league history a streaming service will be the solo carrier for a package of national games. The era begins Aug. 25 with a preseason game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Houston Texans. The first regular season game for Amazon will be Sept. 15, when the Los Angeles Chargers play the Kansas City Chiefs in week two of the NFL season. Local broadcast stations for the teams playing in a given week will also air the games.

Amazon signed a deal with Nielsen this week to measure the telecasts, a sign of confidence that it expects solid ratings. Eighty million U.S. subscribers have watched Amazon Prime Video at least once in the past year, the company said in May. For context, Netflix ended the second quarter with 73.3 million paid monthly subscribers in the U.S. and Canada. Disney+ ended its most recent quarter with 44.5 million subscribers in the U.S. and Canada.

People who want to watch the games will need to sign up for an Amazon Prime account, which costs $14.99 a month or $139 a year, or a Prime Video membership, which is $8.99 a month.

New game features

To push viewers toward its NFL broadcast, which cost Amazon $1 billion per year, live games will automatically start playing when people log onto Amazon.com. The games will also be featured prominently on Prime Video’s home screen to alert subscribers they’re taking place in real time.

Viewers will be given the choice to watch, record or start from the beginning of the broadcast. If they don’t want to have to keep recording individual games, they’ll also have the option of recording the entire slate of Thursday night games for the season.

Amazon is also debuting other new technology features. On most platforms (it’s still working on a deal with Roku), it will offer “X-Ray stats,” which will give viewers the ability to see real-time statistics on screen. In addition to standard stats such as yards and touchdowns, they will include so-called next generation figures, such as average time-to-throw for quarterbacks and yards-after-contact for running backs and receivers. Players will wear uniforms enhanced with Amazon Web Services chips, allowing for instant updates.

Amazon will also have a customer package of highlights via X-Ray that update through the game for viewers who missed the early action and want to catch up. For Fire TV users, viewers will be able to speak commands such as “show me stats” or “play the last touchdown” into the remote control.

Continuing a trend put in place by Disney‘s ESPN and Paramount Global, Amazon will also offer alternative broadcasts for people who want a less serious telecast, beginning with the popular comedy YouTube group Dude Perfect. Amazon plans to add other alternative feeds over time.

Growing pains

Some growing pains are expected. For example, Amazon is preparing for feedback from frustrated viewers whose internet speeds may not able handle to a live stream, or from viewers who are still unfamiliar with streaming navigation.

“Free of bandwidth and channel limits that constrain optionality on linear platforms, our promise is to continually listen to our customers, iterate and intentionally develop new and better ways for more fans to enjoy the games,” said Amazon spokesman Tim Buckman.

As for its primary broadcast, Amazon is confident viewers will be pleased. While Apple TV+ received a slew of initial pushback for trying to be different with its Major League Baseball games, Buckman said Amazon’s goal is to be great at delivering the core game viewing experience before being inventive.

For its play-by-play, Amazon is tapping broadcasting legend Al Michaels, who departed NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” along with longtime college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit.

Disclosure: NBC and CNBC are both units of NBCUniversal.

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