Mar 19, 2021 - Economy & Business

New Amazon football rights mark watershed moment for streaming TV

Illustration of a football player with an NFL tag
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

For the first time in history, the NFL said Thursday it agreed to license all of its Thursday Night Football games exclusively to a technology company, Amazon.

Why it matters: It's a major milestone for streaming. "To-date, no streaming platform has made a substantial sports rights acquisition," Rich Greenfield, partner at LightShed Ventures, wrote in an analyst note.

Details: Beginning in 2023, Amazon Prime Video will carry and produce the games for 10 years. It will shell out roughly $1 billion per year to the NFL, according to CNBC, totaling more $10 billion.

  • The deal also expands traditional TV networks' rights to air games across their digital channels. ViacomCBS, Fox, NBCUniversal and Disney/ESPN will have the ability to air some exclusive games across their streaming services, Paramount+, Tubi, Peacock and ESPN+.

Be smart: The NFL and Amazon first began experimenting with a distribution partnership in 2017, when they struck a deal to allow Amazon to stream Thursday Night Football games non-exclusively for the following season.

  • At the time, Amazon reportedly paid around $50 million for distribution rights. Twitter, which had the rights the year prior, reportedly paid $10 million.

The big picture: The broader set of NFL games will continue to air on traditional TV networks for the foreseeable future, helping prop up the struggling Pay-TV industry for at least a few more years.

  • NFL games are usually the most-watched type of content on traditional television. Analysts predict that without sports rights, and particularly NFL rights, the entire Pay-TV ecosystem would crumble.

Yes, but: There are still fewer people watching games on live TV, which presents an enormous challenge for the League.

  • This year's Super Bowl was watched by a total of 96.4 million viewers, its lowest audience in more than a decade.
  • While the NFL has been experimenting with moving rights to digital platforms, there are sometimes latency and technical problems related to putting live sports on streaming platforms.

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