Amazon’s first Thursday Night Football game went off without a hitch

It didn’t crash! That’s the most important thing you can say about the first Thursday Night Football game airing on Amazon Prime Video. Amazon didn’t collapse like HBO Max did during the Dragon House first. It didn’t crash like CBS All Access did in the 2021 Super Bowl. It even streamed better than DirecTV did five days ago. There were a few reports of blocking and buffering, but in general Amazon hung on and streamed a football game.

Watching the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers play, I got the distinct impression that “streaming a football game” was Amazon’s one and only goal for the evening. There was nothing particularly innovative or new about the show, from the cast choice to the programming style. But surely that was by design: even legendary commentator Al Michaels, hired by Amazon to call these games, said he wasn’t going to “reinvent the wheel.” None of us are.

It was the first game of its decade-long deal with the NFL, for which Amazon pays about $1 billion a year for exclusive rights. Amazon has streamed NFL games in the past, but its new package is both more expensive and significantly larger than the top pick games it had before. And ultimately, Amazon’s impressive achievement depends on how many people actually watched; Amazon was telling advertisers to expect 12.5 million viewers, which would make it bigger than Dragon House, but we won’t know the real numbers for a while. Either way, how Amazon does it will have a lot to do with how quickly the sport turns to streaming – so if you’re rooting for the death of expensive wire harnesses, you’re rooting for Amazon to do. And he did.

In the hour of coverage leading up to the game, there was surprisingly little fanfare or Amazon rah-rahing. Seconds into the broadcast, pre-game show host Charissa Thompson said “welcome to the long-awaited debut of Thursday Night Football on Prime Video,” but she was barely audible from the center of a crowd of Chiefs. In general, it all looked remarkably like…a football game.

There were, however, a few signs of who ran the show: the Prime logo in the upper right corner; players mimicking the arrow logo in promotional segments; a section of the pre-game show sponsored by Audible; prompt him to ask Alexa who led the league in passing yards; the track “Prime Stories” showing the most important scenarios before the game.

And, best of all, about 45 minutes into the broadcast, we got our first sighting of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos laughing on the sidelines in a green polo shirt. I also noticed it at least once during the game. I sincerely hope there is a contractual number of shots from Bezos per game. And I hope that number is in the hundreds.

The most visibly Amazonian thing were the ads – and there were plenty of them

The most visibly Amazonian thing, however, was the ads. A surprisingly high percentage of in-game ads were for Amazon’s own products and content – regular reminders that The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is a show on Prime Video that Amazon would love for you to watch, along with outtakes for seemingly every other show and movie on the service.

It’s possible that Amazon has spare ad inventory to fill with its own stuff, but it also wouldn’t be surprising if the company is happy to forgo ad revenue to help broadcast serve as great publicity for its services. . Amazon keeps saying it views its investment in the NFL as a long game, which could end up being far more important than ad revenue. He clearly wants Prime to grow more than he needs a few more bucks from T-Mobile and Chipotle.

Live streaming in general is much more volatile than cable: how the stream looks depends on your Wi-Fi speeds, your streaming device, and even the ISP you use. Getting it to work for everyone will be Amazon’s biggest challenge, and the internet has had its fair share of complaints, but it worked seamlessly for me.

The stream was streamed via my Fire TV Stick in 1080p, as the dream of 4K sports is apparently still just a dream. There was Dolby Digital Plus audio, but through my (admittedly crappy) TV speakers, it sounded like Amazon had some mixing work to do. I could sometimes hear the players clearly but not the crowd, so sometimes it felt like the match was being played in front of a crowd of around 16 people.

A few times during the game, I switched to the alternate broadcast. Alternative shows are becoming a big part of the future of sports. It’s a great idea: instead of listening to whatever doofus the network chooses to call the game, you can choose to watch with any commentators you choose.

Amazon’s most notable alternative show featured Dude Perfect, the group of crafty athletes who became internet sensations. “This will be the longest continuous video in Dude Perfect’s history,” said Dude Perfect’s Tyler Toney, welcoming the audience to the band’s first-ever live stream. They then started discussing what they were planning for the game, the challenges they were going to take on, something about breaking a world record…and then they were immediately interrupted by the end of the game. pre-game show and a commercial break.

Prime Video also offered the game with a Spanish broadcast, which was nice, as well as a broadcast paired with “Prime Vision,” an always-on view of Amazon’s Next Gen stats. (What you mostly learn from watching a show like this is that Amazon likes to tag everything in sight, and most of the names sound too alike.) The Dude Perfect show was more like hanging out on the sofa with your friends during the game plays on the silence in the background. It’s funny! But it’s not really a football show.

I also watched part of the game with Amazon’s X-Ray menu active. The feature displayed real-time stats, game-by-game information, key replays, and a surprisingly handy list of bios for every player on either team. It was everything you Googled or picked up your phone right there on the screen. It’s super convenient.

In the end, however, I ditched all alternative shows pretty quickly and went back to legendary broadcaster Al Michaels. On the default in-game broadcast, Amazon didn’t take a lot of risk. None, in fact. Its on-screen bug with sheet music and time was a bit busy for my tastes, but it was as wild as Amazon got. The front row was there the whole game. The stream flipped between crowd, sidelines, players, pitch, replays, everything, as you’d expect.

Honestly I expected a lot no more Amazon while playing. Thought I could click here to buy this jersey and order anything I saw in an ad. I half thought Alexa would be a secondary reporter, asking coaches silly questions about how they motivate their guys. Where is the Ring doorbell camera that captures security footage from the top corner? Why is there no pop-up telling me to order now and my Whole Foods delivery will be there at halftime? Amazon had plenty of deals around the game, but none of it showed up on the show. To be clear, thank God: I don’t want any of these things, and they would all have made the experience worse. But plenty of other companies would have, and I’m glad Amazon didn’t.

Amazon still has plenty of football to show – 14 more games this year and nine more after that. I suspect we’re going to start to see Amazon experiment more, both on how to deliver the game itself and how to turn all those investments into revenue. But for now, Amazon has broadcast a football game. Good start.

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