Amazon's NFL games will give us a real idea of live streaming's popularity

We'll find out if Prime Video and Twitch can keep up with regular old TV.
By Alex Perry  on 
Man in Washington Commanders crowd holding sign that says "SAVE US BEZOS"
This guy wants Jeff Bezos to buy the Washington Commanders, but let's pretend he's talking about streaming games on Prime. Credit: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

When Amazon starts exclusively streaming football games in September, it won’t be as shy about sharing ratings as other streaming platforms.

That’s because Amazon won’t have much say at all in how the numbers are conveyed thanks to the folks at Nielsen, which has partnered with Amazon to measure ratings for its Thursday Night Football games. Per Nielsen’s press release, this will be the first time that the company (which has been the predominant source of TV ratings measurement for decades) will directly measure a streaming service’s live viewing numbers nationwide.

Nielsen said it will use the same methodology to count streaming data that it uses to measure regular NFL broadcasts on TV. Per the Wall Street Journal, that means 42,000 homes will be included in the measurements, which will focus on streams to TV sets at first before eventually including laptops and mobile devices. Twitch streams of the games will be counted, too.

This is interesting both because of what it represents for the streaming world and for the sports world, as well as Amazon's business interests. For streaming, it’ll be a real, transparent look at numbers in an industry dominated by self-reporting that can often be hard to trust. For example, in late 2019, Netflix reported that 45 million accounts had watched at least 70 percent of the Sandra Bullock vehicle Bird Box, while Nielsen’s own methodology found that 26 million people had watched the movie in its first week of availability. Both are impressive numbers, but they aren’t the same.

Of course, accurate viewership numbers matter a lot for Amazon, too, as the company needs to sell ads during games. Advertisers need to know how many people their ads will reach and the NFL is an advertising behemoth. For the 2021-22 season, the NFL generated $4.4 billion in ad revenue, and Amazon is paying $1 billion per year just for the right to stream these games. That deal won't necessarily pay for itself, but with transparency in ratings, it probably could over time.

And for sports, in general, the Nielsen deal will give us a glimpse at how the shift to NFL games being streamed almost exclusively (they’ll play over-the-air in each team’s local markets) through Prime Video or Twitch affects viewership. When TNF games aired on Fox, NFL Network, and Prime Video last season, they averaged 16.4 million viewers each week, per the WSJ. Amazon is reportedly telling advertisers to expect weekly audiences of 12.6 million viewers, a pretty sharp decline that could reflect the gap that streaming still has to fill before it can match broadcast TV in popularity.

There’s always the possibility that Amazon’s prediction is wildly optimistic or even a bit pessimistic. Never underestimate America’s desire to watch football. We’ll know for sure when the first real Prime TNF game airs on Sept. 8.

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