Amazon’s Thursday Night Football debut in Week 2 of the NFL season averaged 13.02 million viewers. Subsequent weeks drew average audiences of 11.03 million and 13.4 million, respectively.
Industry observers have largely lauded the results, noting Amazon’s first three games outdrew NFL Network’s average TNF audience in weeks two through four of last season by a wide margin (8.49 million viewers).
But these Nielsen data points include fans watching at bars and restaurants (out-of-home, or OOH, viewers), visitors inside sample homes (also part of the OOH figure) and those tuning in to over-the-air stations carrying the game within the teams’ home markets (OTA viewers). “That’s not really streaming viewership,” one senior executive at a linear network said.
The true number of private households streaming games on Prime Video is roughly 20% lower than those figures. While an average streaming audience of close to 10 million is impressive, it is a meaningful decline from the 15.2 million viewers Fox averaged with 11 TNF games in 2021.
Some media insiders believe the discrepancy indicates it’s still premature for sports properties to transition exclusively from linear television to a streaming platform, and that the decision to do so will result in the forfeiture of a large portion of their existing audience.
JWS’ Take: Amazon deserves credit for its accomplishments over the first month of the NFL season. No sports or entertainment streamer had ever drawn five million viewers for a live event before, and the company’s game presentation has largely been well received.
It is also legitimate for the e-commerce giant to tout Nielsen’s numbers, which remain the currency of the advertising marketplace.
But the weekly viewership totals do not accurately represent the number of fans streaming the game on Prime Video. “You can basically strip out 20% of [the audience] that is attributable to local broadcast and out of home,” the linear executive said, which leaves more like 9.5 to 10 million people tuning in via an internet stream. (To be sure, cable and broadcast networks also benefit from out-of-home viewership, and the cable gets the benefit of local over-the-air viewers, as well.)
TNF viewership dipped in Week 3 before rebounding to a season high in Week 4. (The Week 5 number for the Colts’ 12-9 win vs. the Broncos has yet to be released.) The audience size is expected to decline slightly in the weeks ahead as games run up against the MLB postseason and less marketable teams take center stage (see: Commanders-Bears in Week 6 and Cardinals-Saints in Week 7).
The question is how far it slides.
Even if Amazon viewership remains flat over the last three months of the year and finishes the season with an average streaming audience of around 10 million viewers, the experiment should serve as a cautionary tale for most sports properties thinking about following the NFL’s lead. You will sacrifice meaningful reach if you transition a package from linear television exclusively to streaming—particularly if leaving a broadcast network.
In fact, any other rights owner would almost be certain to lose an even larger percentage of its audience in the transition. The NFL is a different animal when it comes to the breadth of its fandom, and it is hard to imagine another rights package receiving a marketing push comparable to the one TNF received from Amazon.
Capturing comparable OOH and OTA audiences would be difficult, too—at least initially. Some rights owners would likely find OTA distribution in the home market hard to come by with nominal ratings relative to the NFL, and building out a robust OOH distribution network won’t be an overnight endeavor. Remember, the NFL has existing relationships with tens of thousands of commercial establishments because DirecTV spent the last three decades selling them Sunday Ticket.
Amazon generated more new Prime membership signups in the U.S. during its Week 2 Chiefs-Chargers broadcast than any other three-hour window in company history. The company declined to share how many members it signed up or the percentage of new subs that signed up for annual subscriptions ($14.99/mo. or $139/year). But even in a world where every new subscriber were to stick around throughout the season, it is hard to see how the billion-dollar-a-year package doesn’t result in a short-term loss for the company.
Industry insiders said Amazon is unlikely to generate more than $200 million in ad sales revenue this season.
Of course, we are just four weeks into the first year of an 11-year deal. It is far too early to determine how much value Amazon can and will create with the TNF package over its lifetime.
It is also worth noting that TNF on Prime is reaching a younger demographic than the linear networks carrying NFL games; 23.7% of Amazon viewers are from the valued 18-34 demo. That age group comprises just 14.2% of total NFL impressions across linear networks.
It’s been speculated that the difficulty associated with flipping from Prime Video to a linear television network may keep TNF viewers tuned into Amazon broadcasts longer—and have them watching more commercials in-game—than they would on other platforms. However, to date, there is little evidence to suggest a noticeable shift in consumer behavior has occurred. Based on a one-minute qualifier and a P2+ audience, Nielsen data shows the average length of a TNF viewer on Amazon (about 89 minutes) is not meaningfully different than it has been for any other NFL broadcast across the first four weeks (about 84 minutes).
(This article has been updated in the eighth paragraph to include additional context about out-of-home and over-the-air viewership.)