Thursday Night Football Delivers A Viewership Touchdown For Amazon Prime Video & NFL In Debut

Amazon’s Hail Mary play to bring the NFL to streaming looks like a touchdown in Week 1.

The September 15 primetime Thursday Night Football gridiron battle on Prime Video between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers scored 11.9 million viewers just on the Jeff Bezos-founded streamer, according to Nielsen. The debut of the franchise on Prime Video actually bops up a bit more to 13 million when you add in local affiliates broadcasting of the tight game.

Overall, it looks like TNF’s premiere on Prime Video further moved up to around 15 million sets of eyeballs when viewership on various devices is factored in, Amazon says.

All of which backs up what Jay Marine VP Prime Video, Global Head of Sports, told staffers in a memo earlier this week: “Our first exclusive TNF broadcast delivered the most watched night of primetime in the U.S. in the history of Prime Video.”

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In fact, Prime Video’s TNF debut was the most-watched show of the entire night on September 15. In a bit of an apples to avocados comparison, the close two-hour game topped second place half-hour comedy Young Sheldon on CBS by 271% in total viewers.

It is also a promise made and a promise kept, as Amazon had told media buyers earlier this year that it was aiming for about 12.5 million viewers per game with TNF on Prime Video.

Not that any of this came cheap.

Amazon paid $1 billion a year for an 11-year exclusive on Thursday night games. Last week’s debut was the boldest move yet in a broader shift of legacy sports broadcasting from linear TV into streaming. Apple and Peacock have streamed Major League Baseball games this season and ESPN+ has offered a number of exclusives for NHL and college football games.

The technology underpinning the high-stakes NFL gambit has drawn scrutiny to Amazon. While the company is a tech Goliath worth more than $1 trillion, the challenges of delivering a stream to such a large live audience were evident at times during the broadcast. While there was no Sunday Ticket-like outage or any other dramatic glitch, many viewers complained of buffering and audio sync issues and other imperfections. Unlike the pay-TV world, streaming relies on a shared network, so “your results may vary” is the operative phrase.

Amazon spent heavily on assembling a broadcast TV-level production and booth, signing NBC Sunday night vets Al Michaels and Fred Gaudelli to handle play-by-play and production, respectively.

Like Prime Video, the NFL is declaring victory after the rating, but it faces a significant consumer backlash over DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket package. The premium offering, which costs about $300 to $400 per season, encountered major tech issues on the first two Sundays of the season. League commissioner Roger Goodell has indicated that the package, which is in its 29th season on the satellite provider and the final year of its current contract, will shift to a streaming outlet in 2023. Any question or hesitancy among the avid, generally affluent Sunday Ticket audience would complicate things for the NFL as it looks to continue building its dominant scale as a media property.

All of which is going to put a lot of eyeballs on tonight’s TNF Prime Video match-up between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns, literally and figuratively.

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