TV & Streaming

Media buyers’ eyes are on Thursday Night Football for signs of a shift

“Amazon is somewhat of a test dummy for the NFL,” one buyer said.
article cover

Amazon Prime, Getty Images

· 4 min read

There are lots of things you can only get on Amazon. Later this month, that will also include football—sort of.

While fans dust off their jerseys ahead of the NFL’s Week 1 kickoff game between the Buffalo Bills and the Los Angeles Rams on Sept. 8, the far more important matchup for the media industry will be one week later, when Amazon Prime Video exclusively streams its first regular-season NFL game.

That game, a Thursday Night Football face-off between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs, will mark the beginning of a period of heightened interest through the fall about the future of football viewing, sports media buyers told Marketing Brew. That’s because what happens on Prime Video this season—including the viewership games attract and the advertising results they deliver—could have implications for the sports media-buying world for years to come.

“Everybody’s eyes and focus is on what’s going to happen with Amazon,” said Jimmy Spano, SVP, group director at Carat USA. “Everyone’s going to be paying attention to it.”

Play ball

Before the first Prime Video-exclusive Thursday Night Football game airs, it’s anyone’s guess as to how many people will tune in to watch. (Preseason games, which kicked off on Prime Video on Aug. 25, aren’t necessarily good indicators of overall viewing, buyers told us.)

Amazon is anticipating a downward trend, telling buyers to expect around 12.5 million viewers this season, compared to the average 16.4 million viewers who tuned into Thursday Night Football last season, when it aired on Fox Sports, the NFL Network, and Prime Video. That’s in line with previous programming shifts from one platform to another—like when the Monday Night Football franchise moved from broadcasting on ABC to cable channel ESPN in 2006.

That doesn’t mean Prime Video is offering ad inventory at a discount. “They’re commanding what is traditional broadcast pricing,” explained Adam Schwartz, SVP, director, video investment, Horizon Media. “And anything that we’ve seen shift from linear to streaming has taken a [ratings] hit in some capacity, just because people have trouble finding it, or what have you.”

The NFL has historically been a ratings powerhouse and is one of the few places advertisers can reliably find large audiences week after week, Schwartz said. Because of that ratings strength, Schwartz is “cautiously optimistic” about Thursday Night Football audience turnout this season, he said, although he anticipates some dampening of casual viewership to start.

Get marketing news you'll actually want to read

Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.

“Everyone, collectively across the industry, is very interested in seeing how it performs, Schwartz said. “Everyone’s going to be sitting waiting for those ratings to come out the next day to see what the heck it looks like.”

First down

Part of the focus on Thursday Night Football is a practical one: if audiences tune in, it’s likely advertisers will want to move some of their scatter dollars to the broadcast for the remainder of the season, Spano said.

Long term, though, Thursday Night Football could be a bellwether for the industry.

“Amazon is somewhat of a test dummy for the NFL,” Spano said. “If Amazon can prove to be successful—not just in year one, but throughout the remainder of their 11-year deal—it’ll only lead to the NFL expanding to other streaming platforms.”

That’s something Amazon executives are predicting, too.

“Our number one focus is delivering the best broadcast for fans, and when we do that, we know fans will come—and we know other rights holders will see that,” Marie Donoghue, Amazon’s VP of global sports video, said recently during a call with reporters.

If all goes well for Thursday Night Football and other leagues take notice of the possibilities on streaming platforms, that could have big implications across the sports broadcast landscape, Spano said.

“Barring success, it’s the broadcast networks that have the rights now that are going to go into worry mode,” he said.

Ahead of that, Amazon’s influence in live-sports streaming could deliver media buyers a win. In an attempt to make it easier for advertisers to invest in the broadcast (and for Amazon to sell ads), Prime Video partnered with Nielsen to measure Thursday Night Football games like linear TV, an anomaly in streaming. If Thursday Night Football scores with viewers and advertisers, buyers hope other platforms streaming live sports (like ESPN+, Apple TV+, and Peacock) adopt Nielsen metrics too.

“One of the things that we’re pushing for as buyers is more data and more information,” Schwartz said. “We’re hoping that, at the very least, those [streamers] will move in Amazon’s direction.”

Get marketing news you'll actually want to read

Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.