One notable detail (of many) from the NFL media deals announced Thursday was that the league was going to streaming-exclusive games (outside local markets) on a larger scale than ever before, with Thursday Night Football heading to Amazon. There had previously been some streaming-only games, especially with Yahoo, but putting a whole package there is a big leap. And yes, NFL Network will still get to simulcast some of those games, but they’ll have far fewer TNF simulcasts than they did under the old deals. And, as per a report from Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk, there might even be a wild-card playoff game heading to Amazon if their streaming packages do large enough numbers:
Third, Amazon can get a wild-card playoff game if it meets certain viewership thresholds.
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) March 19, 2021
This is certainly an interesting idea, and it’s one that could come with major blowback for the league from putting a playoff game at a place that might have a smaller reach. Yes, theoretically, Amazon has a whole lot of reach; as per a Dec. 2020 piece at Statista, they had 112 million U.S. Prime subscribers in December 2019. (That data wasn’t sourced, though, and a survey-based estimate from Consumer Research Information Partners suggested 126 million U.S. Prime subscribers as of September.) Either number would put Amazon ahead of cable networks like ESPN, which had around 80 million U.S. subscribing homes as of December 2020.
But, ESPN playoff games have usually been simulcast on broadcast ABC the last few years. And broadcast TV has an approximate penetration of 116.4 million homes at the moment (Nielsen 2020-21 TV universe estimate of 121 million homes multiplied by the 96.2 percent of those homes estimated to be ” receiving traditional TV signals via over-the-air antenna, cable, DBS, Telco or via a broadband internet connection connected to a TV set”). Also, it’s unclear how those Amazon subscriber metrics work; is that counting multiple accounts within a home as one (as Nielsen would), or as individual accounts? And does that count associated accounts, which can be on a Prime account with even a different delivery address, but don’t have their own Prime Video access?
In any case, regardless of the specifics of Amazon’s Prime Video user numbers, it seems pretty likely that fewer people would be able to watch a playoff game that was exclusive to Prime Video versus one that was shown on broadcast TV. And that seems true even if the exact level of “how many fewer people?” can be debated. And that would definitely lead to some pushback against the NFL. Granted, as with Thursday Night Football, the game would probably wind up on broadcast in the local markets, and that would alleviate outcry from many of the fans of the teams involved.
But there would still certainly be people impacted by a decision to put a playoff game exclusively (nationally, at least) on a streaming service. And that game would also presumably draw fewer viewers than it would on cable, or especially on broadcast. Whether trading off immediate viewership for a larger amount of money from streaming is worth it for the NFL is a debate, and it’s an even more interesting debate when that comes to a playoff game rather than a TNF regular-season package many don’t really care about.
At the moment, though, the details on this are scanty, and it may never come to pass. We don’t know what those “viewership thresholds” are, and we don’t know how they’ll be tracked (streaming video metrics have all sorts of problems at the moment, especially as many of them are released by companies rather than verified by third parties). Maybe the thresholds are high enough that this will never happen.
It’s also possible that Amazon could do so well with its TNF streaming that this becomes a moot point; there have always been complaints about events on cable rather than broadcast, but cable networks reaching certain penetration levels and viewership numbers did a lot to diminish that, and it’s possible that could happen for streaming services too. And the whole landscape might change; Florio also notes that the NFL has opt-outs for all of these deals after seven years, and if they exercise those, streaming services might wind up with even larger roles in the next agreement. In any case, the idea of an Amazon-exclusive playoff game will certainly be an interesting topic to watch.
[Pro Football Talk on Twitter]