A week to the day after Amazon Prime Video officially kicked off its stewardship of the NFL’s Thursday Night Football package, the Nielsen ratings are finally in … and the results surpassed all expectations. With an average draw of 13.02 million viewers, the headcount for the Chargers-Chiefs game exceeded the streamer’s performance target of 12.6 million.
Amazon this morning noted that its in-house estimates put last Thursday’s numbers at around 15.3 million viewers, although the Nielsen data remains the currency for all advertising transactions. While Amazon’s measurements are locked up behind a walled garden, and therefore are not subject to third-party verification, that 15.3 million headcount unofficially topped last year’s TNF opener on Fox and NFL Network (14.8 million).
All of this is encouraging news for the NFL, which in March 2021 entrusted its Thursday night showcase to the online retailer/streaming service as part of an $11 billion rights deal. (Amazon originally had agreed to carry TNF for 10 years, but jumped the line a few months later when legacy rights-holder Fox opted to bow out of the final year of its contract.)
It’s also a big win for Amazon, which had celebrated the results days before the Nielsen data was released. In a memo to staffers that was subsequently leaked to multiple media outlets, Prime Video VP Jay Marine earlier this week said the Chargers-Chiefs brawl coincided with the “biggest three hours for U.S. Prime sign ups ever in the history of Amazon—including Prime Day, Cyber Monday and Black Friday.”
Among other things, Amazon’s deliveries suggest that fans are starting to catch the streaming bug, a conclusion largely reinforced by the NFL’s weekly TV ratings. For example, NBC’s broadcast of the Sept. 8 season opener between the Bills and Rams averaged just shy of 20 million linear viewers, with streaming on Peacock and other digital platforms contributing another 1.74 million impressions. In other words, 8% of NBC’s Bills-Rams deliveries were generated away from the tube. In the year-ago NFL Kickoff Game, streaming accounted for 5% of the overall impressions.
The move to streaming hasn’t been cheap. With an average fee of $66.7 million per game, the cost of reaching each of those Nielsen-verified TNF viewers works out to about $5.12 per stream. Of course, that cost is arguably of secondary importance to Amazon, which boasts a $1.26 trillion market cap.
Media buyers said Amazon’s in-game spots fetched between $475,000 and $525,000 per 30-second increment. In keeping with Amazon’s more cautious ratings outlook, the company’s unit costs are significantly less elevated than Fox’s TNF rates, which in the 2021-22 upfront bazaar worked out to around $650,000 a throw.
In addition to the streaming platform, the AFC West showdown was televised on over-the-air TV networks in the two local markets. Fans in Los Angeles could catch the action on Fox’s West Coast flagship channel, KTTV-11, while those in the Kansas City DMA had the option of tuning into the NBC affiliate KSHB-41.
While the Kansas City station delivered a 33.6 household rating and a 57 share (which is to say that 57% of the TVs in use at the time were tuned to channel 41), LA came up short, as the Fox station averaged a 6.8 rating and a 21 share. Last season, the Chargers averaged an 8.5 rating in their home market, the NFL’s second-worst showing next to the Jets’ lowly 7.1.
By way of comparison, the NFL’s top in-market performer, the Buffalo Bills, last season averaged a gaudy 47.2 rating in their relatively tiny DMA, which extends from Niagara Falls in the north to Jamestown in the south and includes some 612,780 TV homes. The Los Angeles market is home to 5.74 million TV households.
That the Chargers’ second game of the new season was largely ignored in the team’s home market (per Nielsen, 602,000 Angelenos tuned in) is particularly odd, given that the local ratings for the team’s first outing, a 24-19 victory over the visiting Raiders, were up 51% versus the analogous broadcast in 2021. On a percentile basis, that marked the biggest improvement in Week 1, edging Cincinnati’s 47% increase. (Of course, it’s entirely possible that the Los Angeles market over-indexes on Amazon Prime subscriptions, in which case Chargers fans in the area may have been more likely to stream Thursday’s game rather than dial up the Fox affiliate.)
As is the case with the broadcast networks, Amazon devoted a fair amount of its in-game inventory to promos for its in-house programming, a 14-unit blitz that included teasers for the new fantasy series The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power and the Sylvester Stallone flick Samaritan. If you thought Al Michaels was phoning it in whenever he’d read the copy for NBC primetime melodramas such as This Is Us and New Amsterdam, his lack of enthusiasm for the hobbit show was practically contagious. And who could blame him—Al Michaels has no time for orcs and goblins and other Middle-earth frippery.
While the usual suspects from the realm of social media groused about a few technical glitches that popped up over the course of the evening—audio issues were cited, and there was much gnashing of virtual teeth re: buffering and pixelization—the Amazon stream had all the hallmarks of a standard NFL TV broadcast. Michaels and analyst Kirk Herbstreit sound as if they’ve been calling games together for years, and Fred Gaudelli’s production was all but indistinguishable from his work on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. Meanwhile, among the special features that were available to streamers included a barrage of NextGen stats (passing scores, completion probabilities, etc.) and a number of data-drenched graphical overlays.
As much as the Chiefs’ 27-24 victory over their division rivals managed to top Amazon’s ratings projections, the process of scaring up viewers may get a bit tougher, at least in the near term. Tonight’s matchup features two fading powers from the AFC North; behind quarterback Mitch Trubisky, Pittsburgh has the third least-productive offense in football, while Cleveland on Sunday managed to give up a pair of touchdowns to the Jets in the final two minutes of a bewildering 31-30 loss. The Browns are considered such a weak draw that the NFL this season has limited them to a single national broadcast window—or two, if you count tonight’s outing as a “TV game.”
The outlook begins to improve on Sept. 29, when the surprising 2-0 Dolphins visit the seemingly snake-bit Bengals (0-2). At the moment, perhaps the most promising matchup on Amazon’s TNF slate is the Oct. 27 Ravens-Bucs pairing. This marks only the second time Tom Brady will face off against Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson; in their first meeting, the Ravens prevailed over the Pats by a 37-20 margin back in 2019. Then in his second year in the league, Jackson ran for 61 yards and two touchdowns and threw for another score.
If the waiting game for the official Nielsen data was curiously prolonged—final deliveries for Thursday night’s programming almost always drop the very next day at around 4 p.m. ET—insiders said that they expect that subsequent TNF ratings releases should follow the standard TV pattern.