Alternate sports broadcasts—from Nickelodeon’s slime-filled NFL games to ESPN’s breakout ManningCast productions—have exploded in popularity in the last two years. The shows have proven the value of rethinking sports telecasts from the ground up.
This season, Amazon has added a new twist to the mix.
For its Thursday Night Football debut season, Amazon introduced a ‘Prime Vision with Next Gen Stats’ feed that differs from its more traditional main broadcast in two key ways. During plays, the Prime Vision camera switches to a higher view, with receivers’ routes traced live. And throughout the game, stats and analysis pop up along the screen’s bottom and right edges. Otherwise, the feed is largely standard. Al Michaels’ and Kirk Herbstreit’s voices are still there, along with many of the main production’s shots. It’s more of an augmented option instead of an alternate option.
Prime Vision has already found a number of fans online. It’ll return for Thursday’s Bears-Commanders game and each TNF game thereafter, according to Amazon, proof that even if the ManningCast’s massive success last year signaled the maturation of alternate stream styles, there are still new formulas to be discovered.
Supplementary feeds these days generally fall into one of two buckets—either attempting to grow the game’s audience or better serve hardcore fans. (The ManningCast’s ability to do both has made it uniquely special.) Amazon’s shows have generally fit those molds, as well.
In addition to Prime Vision, Amazon launched TNF with Dude Perfect, a family-oriented presentation featuring a well-known group of YouTube personalities. It has also brought back Hannah Storm and Andrea Kremer for a stream focused on the stories inside the game.
Amazon has not released viewership numbers for its supplementary streams. Instead, they are rolled into the overall numbers, which have generally surpassed expectations a month in, particularly with younger viewers. Prime Video director, global live sports production, Jared Stacy said that demo—“the one that linear broadcasters are having the hardest time reaching”—was a particular focus when it was developing the Dude Perfect concept.
“If we could kind of bring people to watch Dude Perfect and have the football game as part of the experience, we thought that was just a great way to entertain people and bring families together,” Stacy said.
For Prime Vision, a control room in Los Angeles uses Second Spectrum tools to augment the live video feed with a variety of markers, from route tracking to star player tags. The data insights come from Next Gen Stats, an NFL initiative that runs on Amazon Web Services infrastructure and includes calculations like an optimal play-call model for those fourth-down decisions that have become a regular talking point in recent weeks.
“It’s not for everybody, and that’s fine,” Stacy said. “That’s the beauty of our platform: There’s optionality.”
Digital platforms have opened the door for all sorts of AltCast experimentation, going back to WatchESPN feeds in the mid-2010s. But it was the success of Monday Night Football with Peyton & Eli last year that has sparked renewed attempts across sports, even if the Mannings only draw 10% of the overall MNF audience on ESPN2.
“It’s an undeniable, enormous impact on the Monday Night Football brand,” said Lee Fitting, who oversees ESPN’s NFL and college football properties as SVP of production. “It’s helped elevate Monday Night Football, obviously amongst fans and viewers, [as well as] other key shareholders, whether it’s sales, league partners etc.”
In particular, the Mannings have shown the power of personality. Their stardom allows them to joke without losing credibility, and has helped them push the edge of the envelope in ways traditional broadcasts can’t, such as focusing on a protester who ran onto the field during the Rams-49ers game.
ESPN is hoping to capture some of that magic with College Football Primetime with the Pat McAfee Show, which debuted last week. It’s also continuing to tweak the ManningCast formula, particularly when it comes to how many guests to have on, and how long to keep them for.
Further evolutions likely loom as well. As Prime Vision shows, digital platforms’ ability to make small tweaks to the standard broadcast to better serve certain viewing subsets opens the door for all kinds of potential options.
Meanwhile, Bleacher Report is among the companies focused on adding interactivity to the mix. Its alternate broadcasts blend elements of TV and social media in shorter shows, like one that will run during the Golden State Warriors’ pregame ring ceremony, incorporating audience polls and chat in the brand’s app.
“It’s about creating space for discussion around sports moments, and using an alternative broadcast to do that, rather than supplement or create a new experience for a different audience,” Bleacher Report VP of content development and production Tyler Price said.
The NBA is developing alternate options as well, working betting analysis and influencers into the mix.
“This is one big sandbox that we’re all playing in, and we’re all experimenting in,” Fitting said. “Who knows what it’s going to lead to?”
To answer that question, you’d really need prime vision.