With its NFL deal, Amazon takes another step toward redefining television

Coming to a streaming service near you.
Coming to a streaming service near you.
Image: Reuters/Mike Blake
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

If sports are the last stronghold of live TV, then the National Football League is the most coveted among them in the US. And Amazon just grabbed a stretch of it.

The streaming service reportedly outbid Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s YouTube for the digital rights to Thursday Night Football, in a deal that marks Amazon Prime’s first big foray into live TV.

CBS and NBC will each still broadcast and stream five Thursday games next season, and Amazon will stream all 10 of those broadcasts for Prime subscribers around the world, the companies announced today. The NFL Network, the league’s cable-TV channel, will also simulcast the games.

Amazon paid $50 million for the streaming rights, Recode reported, five times what Twitter reportedly paid in a comparable deal last year.

The tech giant has been plotting to launch a live-TV service for sometime. The Motley Fool has reported that Amazon was in talks with cable networks like ESPN and AMC for a standalone internet-TV service. And Turner CEO John Martin revealed at a conference in December that Amazon was one of a half-dozen online players moving into live TV.

The move brings Amazon further than almost any other streaming company in reshaping the traditional model of TV. The company has gradually combined the best of traditional pay-TV and streaming video into a robust video package that can be sliced and diced any way customers want.

  • With Prime Video, Amazon has an on-demand service with roughly 20,000 movies and TV shows, including its own original programming, available as a part of a Prime shipping or standalone video subscription. It recently rolled out in most of the world. Prices vary by region. In the US, a Prime shipping subscription costs $99 a year.
  • Amazon Channels offers subscriptions to more than 100 on-demand channels, including those from traditional TV networks like HBO and Starz, other streaming services like Acorn TV and Seeso, and Amazon’s own curated channels like Anime Strike and Heera. With these, Amazon subscribers could put together a bundle that resembles those in traditional pay-TV packages.
  • It has an extensive library of on-demand titles available for rent or digital purchase that mirrors the pay-per-view experience from pay-TV providers like Comcast and digital services like Apple’s iTunes.
  • It has programming that’s available for free, with ads.
  • And Amazon makes the hardware, the Fire TV, used to access its video player. (Amazon Video is also available through some devices like Roku and PlayStation, but not all. It’s not on Apple TV and Google Chromecast, for example.)

Amazon already offers pretty much everything you’d get from traditional pay-TV and subscription video on demand—except live TV. It’s dabbled in that arena, most notably with the 2014 acquisition of Twitch, a live-streaming service for gamers. This NFL deal moves it further towards becoming a full-service TV provider.

If Amazon rolls out a live bundle, it will be joining other digital entrants such as SlingTV, Sony’s PlayStation Vue, AT&T’s DirecTV,  YouTube TV, and Hulu. Verizon is also said to be weighing a similar offering. Each is looking to become the leader in internet TV.

And there’s no better product for Amazon to test the live-TV waters than with the NFL, whose games are among the most coveted content on TV. Even with a dip in ratings, it had some of the most-watched programming of 2016.

Thursday Night Football is in need of a ratings lift, so the league is more willing to experiment with it than with other games. Hence the Twitter deal last year and the latest Amazon agreement. The NFL has also been courting a more global audience, which Amazon can now reach.