As NFL Kicks Off, Who’s Watching Amazon’s Thursday Night Football? (Bloom)

San Francisco 49ers vs. Houston Texans in NFL preseason football on Aug. 25, 2022.
San Francisco 49ers vs. Houston Texans in NFL preseason football on Aug. 25, 2022. (Image credit: Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

The fine folks at trade group TVB did some noodling this past week with Nielsen data to come up with an eye-catching statistic: Nearly half the viewers for a Thursday-night preseason NFL game carried on Amazon Prime Video were actually watching it on local broadcast stations instead. 

Nielsen, which Amazon hired to track viewership of the Thursday night games it will produce this season, said just over 1 million viewers tuned in to watch San Francisco’s 49ers and Houston’s Texans on August 25, as part of Amazon’s new $1-billion-a-year deal. Of those viewers, however, more than 494,000 watched the game on Houston and San Francisco broadcast stations instead of Amazon, TVB asserted. 

“The power of local broadcast TV and major sports franchises couldn't be more clear,” TVB president and CEO Steve Lanzano said. “Football enthusiasts love their home teams and overwhelmingly choose to watch their games on hometown TV stations. Just two local broadcast TV stations in San Francisco and Houston easily attracted 48% of Amazon's national delivery, and that’s just preseason!”

Yes, but. Let’s chew on Lanzano’s stat with a big grain of salt: 

  • Note who’s asserting the power of local TV: an organization representing local TV. When an industry trade group starts playing with numbers to generate a man-bites-dog headline, I‘m always reminded of Mark Twain’s line: “There’s lies, damned lies and statistics.”
  • This was indeed “preseason!” to use Lanzano’s punctuation. Audiences have been going to local broadcasters to watch the NFL for decades. How many fans even knew Amazon was an option for a preseason (!) game?
  • Also, who’s most likely to be interested in a means-nothing practice game featuring mostly backup players? Local fans (and probably some really hardcore gamblers). That almost certainly won’t be the case in the regular season, when anyone who isn’t in the backyard of the two teams playing each week can only watch the game on Amazon Prime Video. Last year’s Thursday Night Football “tri-cast” from Fox, Amazon, the NFL Network and a bunch of mobile and digital outlets averaged 16.4 million viewers, the best since 2015, according to the league. Amazon Prime has something like 150 million subscribers, according to third-party estimates. If just 10% of those households tune in, viewership will be back in the same, ahem, ballpark, with just a small slice of broadcast audience from each week’s hometown fans. 
  • Further on viewer confusion: Amazon carried that preseason game, but didn’t carry Thursday night’s season-opening matchup between the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams and the highly touted Buffalo Bills. Prime Video regular-season gamecasts don’t kick in until Week 2. It may take a while for people to figure out where to go. Side note: Expect even more viewer confusion on Thanksgiving, when the world’s biggest shopping platform won’t carry its most popular new show on the kickoff of the year’s biggest shopping season. D’oh! 
  • Did I mention that it was a means-nothing preseason (!) game that the Television Bureau of Advertising was talking about?  

More generally, though, beyond Lanzano’s point on behalf of his broadcast brethren, the statistic does suggest something about the confusing new world of watching the NFL. The broadcast outlets still have plenty of games to show at various parts of the week, but Amazon now owns Thursday night exclusively, except in bars and restaurants, where Amazon has deputized DirecTV to keep doing what it’s been doing for years. 

The NFL lists 15 (!) “TV & Streaming” partners showing some of its games. If you want to watch a game on mobile, Yahoo is now out, but the NFL app will connect you to multiple streaming and fantasy services, including the league’s own, just-launched NFL Plus subscription service. 

And the confusion might be even worse next year, when Amazon, Apple, or possibly Alphabet’s YouTube TV is expected to take over the big NFL Sunday Ticket package of out-of-market games. Whoever wins that giant deal will succeed DirecTV, though Amazon’s carveout for bars and restaurants likely will be duplicated, whomever wins. 

Given all that, could it be time for, gulp, more marketing from Amazon? Sunday’s games featured ads for NFL Plus, for DirecTV’s mashup ad of football and Real Housewives of Somewhere and for plenty of brands featuring NFL partnerships and players such as the Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford. 

I finally spotted an Amazon ad for Thursday Night Football a few hours into Sunday’s (broadcast) games, a glitzy spot featuring budding superstar Justin Herbert, hall of famer Deion Sanders and a lot of mentions of the word “Thursday.” That may only be the start of Amazon’s campaign to remind people where they can see most Thursday night games for the next 11 years. 

Broadcast, meanwhile still has plenty of true believers, even if TVB’s little headline grab deserved skepticism. 

In fact, at Tuesday’s Next TV Innovation Awards and Next TV Summit in New York City, I’ll be talking with/handing awards to some of them, including Evoca’s Todd Achilles and an entire panel focused on the premature reports of broadcast’s demise that features Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Rob Weisbord, LocalBTV’s Jim Long, VUit’s Kevin Dunaway, and Dalet’s Luis Fernandez. 

As they’ll likely suggest, with ATSC 3.0’s new business opportunities, and many inflation-stretched households looking for bargain sources of entertainment, broadcast has a chance to reclaim some old-fashioned Over the Air viewers. 

And certainly, this fall will be a lucrative season for local broadcasters, as political advertising pours into their coffers at what likely will be record levels (the deluge of ads over two online-gaming propositions in California are just one such giant spigot of cash).

So even without TVB’s preseason (!) assertion, 2022 should be a solid to very good year for broadcasters. Just don’t count on broadcast viewers to comprise almost 50% of anything Amazon does in the regular (!) season to come. ▪️

David Bloom

David Bloom of Words & Deeds Media is a Santa Monica, Calif.-based writer, podcaster, and consultant focused on the transformative collision of technology, media and entertainment. Bloom is a senior contributor to numerous publications, and producer/host of the Bloom in Tech podcast. He has taught digital media at USC School of Cinematic Arts, and guest lectures regularly at numerous other universities. Bloom formerly worked for Variety, Deadline, Red Herring, and the Los Angeles Daily News, among other publications; was VP of corporate communications at MGM; and was associate dean and chief communications officer at the USC Marshall School of Business. Bloom graduated with honors from the University of Missouri School of Journalism.