There will be lots of teams worth following this NFL season, be they the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the returning Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams. Even so, many people in the media business have their eyes on a very distinctive player: Amazon Prime Video.
The streamer, which once shared “Thursday Night Football” games with Fox, now has exclusive rights to that action and must convince some pigskin Luddites to plug into broadband. Streaming “Thursday Night Football,” after all, will require a different kind of remote — and familiarity with a home screen, not a cable box.
“It is going to be a behavioral shift for people,” acknowledges Jay Marine, VP of Prime Video and its global head of sports. “Our job is to make sure they are able to find ‘Thursday Night Football’ at its new home and make it as easy as possible to get into the Prime Video app and start streaming.”
Amazon has spent the past few weeks trying to whet fans’ appetites for the property. Have you seen an Amazon delivery van in your neighborhood? Many of them are wrapped in promotional displays touting “TNF” and the company’s new “Lord of the Rings” series. Got something on order? Amazon boxes come stamped with words alerting customers to the sports debut. Amazon is also using its home page — no small placement — to tout the games. As of Wednesday evening, a massive “takeover” video dominated Amazon.com, which also featured an active countdown clock ticking the seconds away until game time.
There are ads, too, scattered across broadcast TV, radio and social media. Some of them will run during other media companies’ football telecasts.
Amazon’s efforts to lure fans to the games (access hinges on buying a membership to the company’s Prime service) will no doubt be closely watched, and not just by the company’s executives. Amazon’s gridiron push is a bet on live sports at a moment when adding and retaining subscribers is no longer as easy as it once was. Companies are snapping up sports rights to separate themselves from the competition — and to see if putting football and baseball games behind a paywall can motivate fans to open their wallets even wider.
Getting some sports nuts to change their viewing habits may be a struggle. Amazon recently streamed a preseason game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Houston Texans that also appeared on local stations in the teams’ home markets, access the NFL makes sure to provide. According to Nielsen data, the game reached 1.04 million viewers, but KTVU and KRIV, the stations broadcasting the game to local fans, delivered almost half (48%) of that total.
Amazon sees the local viewership as a boon, says Marie Donoghue, the company’s vice president of global sports video. “It’s our broadcast. Those are our ads,” she says. “We are thrilled local station viewership is up.”
The company believes that once fans sign on for “TNF,” they will further explore Prime, whether shopping or watching other offerings (including “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power”).
Fans who watch “Thursday Night Football” won’t be limited to linear viewing. Users can choose their own adventure, of sorts, by examining highlights, data and statistics – all available at the click of a Fire stick while the game is in play. Amazon is also offering a bevy of “alternative feeds,” including one from veteran sportscasters Hannah Storm and Andrea Kremer that will feature deeper interviews with players and executives, and another offering the trick-shot performances of Dude Perfect. There is also the main stream, for which Amazon has recruited Al Michaels, Kirk Herbstreit, Kaylee Hartung, Charissa Thompson and Taylor Rooks.
“The main broadcast we believe we are producing is a big-tent experience – come one, come all. All NFL fans are welcome,” says Donoghue. “And then, once you get there, we also think some fans may want to engage with the data, the analytics, the highlights,” she says, or to look at an alternate view of the game (More “feeds” should debut during the season, she adds). “The advantage we have is that we don’t have to pick one fan to program for.”
There will also be some surprises, with Amazon treating certain Prime members who add “TNF” to their watchlists to special events. More than 250 Prime members will get to join football legend Jerry Rice at a kickoff party. More than 150 members will get curated game experiences that might include tickets, visits with football stars, hotel rooms and goody bags.
The company isn’t likely to pull back on its marketing blitz. “We have a long-term horizon,” says Marine, who notes that Amazon backed other innovations, like e-commerce and the Kindle, which at one time were foreign concepts. “When we evaluated the success of ‘Thursday Night Football,’ I’m thinking about year five, year seven, year 11,” he says. “We are in this for the long term.”
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