To the delight and dismay of football fans across the United States, the era of NFL games appearing exclusively on a streaming service is upon us.
Amazon Prime Video is the home of Thursday Night Football this coming season, marking the first time in league history that a streaming service will be the stand-alone carrier for a package of national games. The era begins on August 25 with a preseason game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Houston Texans. The first regular season game for Amazon will be on September 15 when the Los Angeles Chargers play the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2 of the NFL season. The local broadcast stations for the teams playing in a given week will also carry the games on the air.
Amazon signed a deal with Nielsen this week to measure TV shows, a sign of confidence that it expects solid ratings. Eighty million U.S. subscribers 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 US and Canada. Disney+ ended its most recent quarter with 44.5 million subscribers in the US and Canada.
People who want to watch the games will need to sign up for an Amazon Prime account, which costs $14.99 per month or $139 per year, or a Prime Video membership, which is $8.99 per month.
New game features
To drive viewers to her NFL broadcast, which cost Amazon $1 billion a year, the live games will start playing automatically when people log on to Amazon.com. The games will also be featured prominently on the Prime Video home screen to alert subscribers that they are 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 continue recording individual games, they will also have the option to record the entire Thursday night slate of games for the season.
Amazon is also debuting other new tech features. On most platforms (still working on a deal with Roku) it will offer “x-ray stats” that will allow viewers to see real-time stats on screen. In addition to standard stats like yards and touchdowns, they will include so-called next-generation numbers like average throw times 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 updates 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 like “show me stats” or “play the last touchdown” into the remote. These features will be ready for Thursday Night Football’s regular season opener.
Continuing the trend set by Disney’s ESPN and Paramount Global, Amazon will also offer alternative broadcasts for people who want less serious TV, starting with the popular comedy Dude Perfect YouTube Group. Amazon plans to add other alternative feeds over time.
Some growing pains are expected. For example, Amazon is bracing for feedback from frustrated viewers whose Internet speeds may not be able to handle a live stream, or from viewers who aren’t yet familiar with streaming navigation.
“Without bandwidth and channel limitations that limit the choice of linear platforms, our promise is to constantly 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 main stream, Amazon is confident that viewers will be satisfied. While Apple TV+ got a serious initial reaction for trying to be different with its Major League Baseball games, Backman said Amazon’s goal is to be great at providing the core game-viewing experience before being inventive.
For its play-by-play, Amazon tapped broadcast legend Al Michaels, who left NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” along with longtime college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit.
Disclosure: NBC and CNBC are units of NBCUniversal.