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Prime Video’s ‘Thursday Night Football’ Premiere Was a Ratings Hit; What Does it Mean for the Future of Sports Streaming?

David Satin

We knew that the NFL’s streaming-only debut of “Thursday Night Football” on Prime Video went well for most viewers. Now, the numbers are coming in to let us know just how well it went for Amazon. According to Nielsen, Amazon’s first “TNF” game of the season drew slightly over 13 million viewers.

That figure includes all over-the-air broadcasts from both teams. However, those broadcasts only accounted for 1.16 million viewers, meaning that the remaining 11.87 million streamed the game on Prime Video. That’s right in line with the 12.84 million viewers that “TNF” drew on average between FOX and the NFL Network last season, despite warnings from Amazon that it may not be able to match those ratings initially.

The ratings represent a huge win for Amazon, whose internal numbers had an even higher viewership number of 15.3 million across all devices, according to THR. The viewership numbers prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the NFL can still succeed as a streaming-only product, if only for a couple of games every week. The success of a streaming “TNF” means that NFL fans who have grown accustomed to watching games on linear TV can and will make the switch to streaming if need be.

What may be even more encouraging from Amazon’s point of view is the record number of new signups to Amazon Prime while the game was on. According to a leaked memo reported by CNBC, Amazon saw more Prime signups over a three-hour period during “TNF” than it had in similar time windows on previous Prime Days and other big shopping days like Black Friday.

“By every measure, Thursday Night Football on Prime Video was a resounding success,” said Jay Marine, global head of Amazon’s sports division, in a memo to staff earlier this week.

That success may lead to an expansion of live sports offerings on Prime Video, including college sports. The Pac-12, whose broadcast rights deal with FOX and ESPN runs through 2024, will soon be looking for a new home. Amazon has already been linked to the Pac-12 as a possible home for its future games.

Amazon is also still firmly in the mix to land NFL Sunday Ticket when the out-of-market package shakes loose of DIRECTV following the current season. However, there are a number of other streaming players pursuing the Sunday Ticket rights, including Apple and Google. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said that he believes that the Sunday Ticket will end up on a streaming service for next season, and given the early returns on Prime Video’s “TNF” broadcast, that appears like it will work for the league, broadcasters, and fans alike.

If the out-of-market package ends up landing on Apple TV+, it won’t be the first major league-wide rights deal that the tech giant has landed. Apple struck a streaming deal with Major League Soccer earlier this year to broadcast every game featuring a league team for the next 10 years, offering a potential blueprint for what a streaming-only Sunday Ticket could look like.

With so many tech companies with streaming platforms in hot pursuit of Sunday Ticket, and with streaming games on Amazon and ESPN+ having so much success, it’s reasonable to wonder if the future of the NFL is on streaming only. While that may happen down the line, don't expect the NFL to rush to embrace a streaming-only format.

For one thing, the NFL’s current broadcast deals with linear TV outlets run through the end of the 2032 season. It would be incredibly costly for the NFL to try to get out of those deals, which are worth over $110 billion in total. Linear networks and cable providers have a huge incentive to keep major sports, like the NFL, because losing them might signal the death knell of pay TV once and for all.

If streaming-only games continue to be so successful, however, it may force the hand of leagues like the NFL. Streaming continues to prove its viability as a platform for live sports, and Prime Video’s success with “TNF” is just the latest example.

Amazon Prime Video

Amazon Prime Video is a subscription video streaming service that includes on-demand access to 10,000+ movies, TV shows, and Prime Originals like “Jack Ryan,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “The Boys,” and more. Subscribers can also add third-party services like Showtime, and Starz with Amazon Prime Video Channels.

Starting in the 2022 season, Prime Video offers exclusive live access to NFL’s Thursday Night Football.

Prime Video is included with Amazon Prime for $12.99 per month ($119 per year), or can be purchased on its own for $8.99 per month.

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