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Amazon gives NFL global feel

Amazon gives NFL global feel

By John Ourand, Staff Writer

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Get ready for NFL action, Amazon style.

Amazon will put its own stamp on the heavily hyped coverage of the league’s “Thursday Night Football” franchise when it debuts Sept. 28 with the Bears-Packers game. That game marks the first of 11 NFL games Amazon will stream this season, a package that will put a spotlight on the sensibilities the Seattle-based company will bring to future sports rights.

A key element that may surprise people is that Amazon will stream four different feeds of the game. It will carry the regular U.S. feed produced by CBS, of course. But it also will have three different sets of announcers — play-by-play and analysts — call the game in different languages over the CBS-produced video. Games will be available in Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese and a secondary English feed.

“One of the things that I think makes Amazon unique among the different OTT video players is the fact that we truly are a global service. This is a global deal for us,” said Jim DeLorenzo, who is head of sports for Amazon Video Channels. “That really dovetails well with some of the NFL’s goals to try and increase the popularity of the NFL globally. All U.S. leagues are trying to increase their international footprint. We have the same incentives on our side, trying to make sure that we’re presenting this in the best way possible for our customers.”

First Look podcast, with Amazon discussion beginning a the 12:50 mark:

Amazon stressed the reach of Prime Video to the league.
NFL executives consistently point to Amazon’s global audience as one of the company’s strengths. Amazon says that its Prime Video is available in more than 200 countries and territories, a fact that Amazon emphasized during its NFL negotiations.

The added feed will emphasize that advantage even more strongly. Amazon would not say where their announcers will call the games, but they are not likely to be on-site at the host stadiums. More likely, they will use a video feed in a central city to call the games. Amazon executives would not say who the announcers will be.

The Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese feeds speak for themselves. The secondary English feed will be especially unique. It is set up for extremely casual fans or people who live in English-speaking countries and don’t follow the NFL. The feed will be elementary, essentially for people who don’t know what a first down is.

“The goal for us is that we’re trying to present the best experience for our customers, and we think this will be great for our customers who are outside of the United States,” DeLorenzo said. “You want to make it feel like it’s not something that’s an add-on, but it’s actually designed for people who speak Brazilian Portuguese or Spanish. That’s one of the ways that we’re approaching that.”

Amazon also is developing an NFL-themed Alexa skill, similar to what it already has with the PGA Tour. Someone watching Aaron Rodgers, for example, throw a touchdown pass during Amazon’s first Thursday night game could ask their voice-activated Alexa how many touchdown passes he has. Or they could answer NFL-related trivia questions generated by Alexa, daily team schedules, league news and score updates.

“It’s one of the more innovative ways that we’re utilizing the different components of Amazon outside of just video,” said Amazon spokesperson Rena Lunak.

While many TV executives are wary of Amazon’s overall sports ambitious, they do not expect Amazon’s audience to be much higher than the relatively small numbers Twitter delivered last season. Twitter averaged 265,000 viewers on an average minute basis last season. By comparison, CBS, NBC and NFL Network combined averaged more than 12 million viewers.

“I don’t anticipate much of a change at all this season with Amazon,” said CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus. “I don’t anticipate any more effect on our ratings. The primary audience is still going to be on CBS and the secondary audience is going to be on the NFL Network and the tertiary package will be digitally distributed. It will get some users to watch. But I don’t think it will dramatically affect our ratings at all. Since we get credit for the commercials that run nationally, it doesn’t affect us from a business standpoint at all.”

While many will focus on how Amazon handles advertising around NFL games, its executives were tight-lipped about what to expect. Amazon can sell 10, 30-second spots in its streams, sources said, but no deals have been revealed as of yet.

DeLorenzo also promised high-quality video, saying that Amazon is working with the NFL to ensure that the video doesn’t buffer, a complaint frequently heard with streamed video. The high quality of Twitter’s video consistently was praised last season. Amazon counts more than 80 million Prime subscribers, according to various news reports, who pay $99 per year.

“That is a point of emphasis,” DeLorenzo said. “It is something that is important to customers. Customers want to make sure that it’s a high-quality video stream that they’re watching.”

Amazon’s marketing campaign around “Thursday Night Football” includes branded Amazon boxes delivered to people’s homes. The brown boxes, colored like a football, have a “Thursday Night Football” logo and a “Stream Live with Prime Membership” bug.

“It’s something that is pretty rare in terms of what we do,” DeLorenzo said. “It shows how important this is for us.”

 Amazon is paying $50 million this year for the rights to stream the 11 “Thursday Night Football” games.


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