How Amazon Prime aims to lure NFL viewers to streaming ‘Thursday Night Football’

Marie Donoghue has a message for football fans who are worried about “Thursday Night Football” playing mostly on Amazon’s Prime streaming platform: exhale. Because for those worried about a revolution in NFL viewing, what they’ll see instead is akin to comfort food, traditional game streaming.

Amazon’s senior vice president of sports is spearheading TNF’s move entirely to streaming, with the exception of the local broadcasts of the two competing teams. Amazon has paid generously, more than $1 billion a year for 11 years, which has sparked fan angst over how the show will look, if they can even find it, and if all of the exercise is a way for the conglomerate to simply sell more goods. .

It’s getting harder and harder to find your sports stream, with some MLB games, for example, suddenly stripped of their regional sports channel perches and thrown seemingly haphazardly onto streamers like Apple Plus, Peacock, and yes, Amazon Prime. Amazon’s TNF package – 15 regular season games – adds to this trend.

“Sports fans have to develop different muscle memory,” Donoghue said. “And so that things that you can watch, trends and such, don’t happen in the blink of an eye, things don’t happen instantly. But we’re very confident that over the life of our NFL agreement, fans will get more used to coming to OTT to watch the game. OTT is the acronym for “over the top”, the industry jargon for streaming.

Amazon has promised its game advertisers an average viewership of 12.5 million, a company source said, and those rankings will be ranked by Nielsen, a first for streaming. Reaching that number, when millions of average viewers are lower than a typical NFL broadcast, would mark stunning success in sports streaming.

There is little or no precedent for such numbers. The other exclusive NFL streams, standalone games, were in the early years of the league’s streaming forays, 2015 and 2017. These results on Yahoo were measured in unique views, an internet metric. A London game in late December 2019 also aired as an exclusive, but since then streaming games have been simulcasts of traditional shows and rarely exceed the equivalent of one million viewers.

‘Thursday Night Football’ viewers will hear a familiar voice as Al Michaels has switched to Amazon Prime to play-by-play. (Will Newton/Getty Images)

Amazon is planning a major advertising campaign to raise awareness of games on Prime, including wrapping its ubiquitous boxes in TNF images, to promotions on the main page. Prime customers can even watch the games on Amazon’s homepage.

Viewers will find a traditional show anchored by Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit and produced by industry veteran Fred Gaudelli. Gaudelli still has a foothold at NBC Sports, where for many years he produced “Sunday Night Football.”

At Amazon, he said he had to refine his work to take into account that many Prime customers were watching on mobile devices and tablets.

“One of the things you really have to pay attention to is what your graphics look like; can they be seen and understood on all these different platforms? Gaudelli asked. “Whereas if you’re producing, you know, for NBC ‘Sunday Night Football’…the vast, vast majority of the audience is watching that game on the nice TV in their living room.”

One tweak is that the on-screen score will be displayed in larger print, he said.

Like ESPN with its Manningcast, Amazon is experimenting with different streams. One features the members of Dude Perfect, a sports and comedy group famous for trick-or-treating, discussing the game. Another is in Spanish, and Amazon’s gamer-friendly Twitch platform will have its own stream. . Other streams are in preparation. Hannah Storm and Andrea Kramer are expected to be back for a handful of games, continuing their alternative feed from when Prime shared TNF with Fox Sports and NFL Network.

“A lot of families will watch the main stream together, obviously there’s a tradition of families watching the NFL together,” Donoghue said. “But we also think the Dude Perfect offer can be something you know, maybe (for) your 4, 5 or 10 year old could be a great introduction for them to ‘Thursday Night Football’.”

Streams will have other bells and whistles. Fans can record all games, and if they start watching halfway through, start at the beginning and fast forward through commercials until they catch up with the game live. A function allows a scrolling half-screen of statistics.

When Amazon snagged the Premier League rights to broadcast matches in England, one point the tech giant learned is that recent players like Peter Drury providing commentary and analysis is a big winner with the public. So the company is following a similar path with recent NFL veterans Richard Sherman, Andrew Whitworth and Ryan Fitzpatrick getting their first on-camera experience on TNF broadcasts.

“I wanted to be part of something new, where they’re also trying to figure it out and upgrade it, to be part of that creative process and try to help develop something from the beginning, it was a pretty unique opportunity,” Fitzpatrick said. “And then the fact that it’s ‘Thursday Night Football’, and for me with all the kids, I always have the weekends, I can always spend the weekends -end with my children.”

Fitzpatrick, who has seven children, was speaking in Nashville from a church-turned-music-studio where Amazon was recording his new theme song. The former big-bearded quarterback provided lighthearted content for Amazon’s footage of the song’s recording.

The fact that Amazon wanted a traditional tune to brand TNF underscores that while offering different niche programming options, it also wanted to brand itself as a traditional NFL show.

The studio offered proof of Amazon’s intention to deliver that comfortable streaming feel. Dozens of musicians worked under towering stained-glass windows trying to cement TNF with a memorable jingle comparable to the classics that open “Monday Night Football” and “Sunday Night Football” and spark the feeling that it’s time for football.

“You want people to feel like it’s a familiar thing, but you also want it to have a modern take and be timeless,” Amazon executive Jared Stacy said of the music. global live sports.

In addition to a theme song, there will be the traditional camera angles (sky cams are new), traditional pre- and post-game shows – albeit on location rather than in the studio – not to mention Michaels’ familiar cadence and storytelling.

“You’re not reinventing the wheel, you’re changing it,” Michaels said. “I think it’s exciting in the sense that all my friends, my kids and my grandkids think it’s the coolest thing in the world.”

In fact, you could say that not much changes for the more than 200 million subscribers who have Prime.

“It’s an evolution, and significant, but not transformational, like the move from the NFL to Fox (in 1994), which was the NFL going from a completely known entity to a completely unknown entity,” said Patrick Crakes, a former Fox. Sports setting. “Amazon is a pretty well-known amount, it’s going to be an NBC production, you can go overboard on that because some people are very excited.”

Crakes expects some of the stories from the first few weeks of Amazon’s regular season broadcasts, which begin Sept. 15, to involve complaints about fans not knowing where to find the games. And the media will inevitably compare the lower ratings to what the games got on traditional TV.

Amazon has invested heavily in back-end technology to ensure there are no setbacks that would instantly fuel a storyline as to why the NFL trusted a streamer-exclusive group of games. Amazon engineers have been working since obtaining the exclusive rights to ensure that game streams are not interrupted.

Fans will also not be affected by pressure to buy jerseys and team loot. Only one device, the Amazon Fire TV Stick, will even have a purchase option. The idea behind this approach is that Amazon wants to promote the game and not deprive fans of the shopping viewing experience.

Despite talking points about not pushing too much change, Michaels nonetheless described TNF’s new cast as trailblazers.

“Maybe the interactivity is something a little different from a standard show. I said to someone, “They think we’re going through the Rockies in a boxcar,” he said. “I said, ‘We’re going through the Rockies on high speed.’ So we are the pioneers.

(Top photo of Rams head coach Sean McVay being interviewed by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Richard Sherman on Amazon Prime ‘Thursday Night Football’ before a preseason game: Kirby Lee/USA Today)

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