Sep 15, 2022 - Technology

Amazon's historic NFL debut

Illustration of a football with Amazon’s logo as stitching.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Amazon’s Thursday Night Football debut tonight is a landmark event for the sports world, and a seminal moment for the media industry.

Why it matters: The much-anticipated contest between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers will be the NFL’s first regular-season game exclusively available via streaming.

The big picture: Amazon’s multi-billion dollar bet on football will be a litmus test for how quickly the NFL, and other sports leagues, continue moving major rights packages from traditional TV to streaming.

  • The NFL is still evaluating whether to grant its lucrative Sunday Ticket package to a streaming company later this year.
  • All Major League Soccer games will be streamed exclusively via the Apple TV app starting in 2023.

Details: The game itself won't look all that different, but there will be a lot of new features.

  • New booth: The offseason talent frenzy saw Amazon land Al Michaels from NBC for play-by-play and Kirk Herbstreit from ESPN as the main analyst.
  • New jingle: Amazon composed unique new theme music that fits in well alongside the four established themes from CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN.
  • New tech: Uniforms will include chips to track NextGen stats, which viewers can follow in real-time using Amazon’s “X-Ray” feature.
  • New coverage: Charissa Thompson will host pregame, postgame and halftime coverage alongside former NFL players Richard Sherman, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tony Gonzalez and Andrew Whitworth. Comedy group Dude Perfect will host an alternate stream.
  • New metrics: After signing a three-year deal with Nielsen, Amazon will become the first streamer to have live programming measured by the ratings company.

What to watch: Amazon says it's confident it will be able to handle the influx of viewers to its app, but many major sports events have caused streaming blips in the past.

  • The CBS All Access app crashed during last year's Super Bowl kickoff.
  • DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket website and app crashed during NFL kickoff weekend.
  • Amazon itself had problems a few years ago live streaming the U.S. Open for U.K. viewers.
  • Amazon did deliver a high-quality stream without any major issues during its first preseason game last month, but only 1 million people tuned into that game. Many more will watch tonight.

Of note: Amazon partnered with DirecTV to air their games in over 300,000 sports bars, restaurants, hotels and other venues outside of homes, ensuring those without high-speed broadband can access the game.

The bottom line: Live sports are one of the last things holding the cable bundle together, but that marriage has an expiration date. Eventually, all premium content will be streamed. Consider tonight a glimpse of the future.

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