To say the 2022-2023 NFL season got off to a rocky start is a bit of an understatement. The teams didn’t experience that, mind you – there were a lot of surprise upsets in Week 1, actually. It was when you tried to watch a game that things got a little weary, with services like Sunday Ticket and the newly-launched NFL Plus experiencing major problems keeping up with the influx of viewers. Even established streaming platforms like Sling TV and YouTube TV weren’t exempted from issues.
Tonight, another streaming giant will try to handle an NFL audience: Amazon Prime Video. The Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs will play their second game of the season this evening at 8:15 p.m. ET. It’ll be commentated by two familiar voices: Al Michaels (previously of “Sunday Night Football” on NBC) and Kirk Herbstreit (of college football fame over at ESPN), and it’ll mark the first time an NFL game is exclusive to Prime Video.
Yes folks, outside of two local stations in the Chiefs and Chargers’ hometowns, the only place you’ll be able to watch this matchup is Prime Video. Which sounds… a bit terrifying.
Back in 2017, Amazon was given exclusive rights to stream Thursday Night Football games alongside broadcasts on NBC, CBS, and later Fox. Since then, that deal has remained relatively stagnant, with some traditional broadcast or another being hosted alongside the online stream. Last year is when things shifted, and Amazon was able to swindle the NFL into giving them exclusive broadcasting/streaming rights for TNF entirely, removing the mid-week games from any sort of national broadcast over the air.
The $1 billion deal was a landmark, one that signaled the direction more live sporting events would be going in: streaming, not broadcasting. It makes every ounce of sense – streaming platforms regularly get better ratings and stronger cultural impacts than traditional broadcasting networks.
But one issue that’s plagued streaming platforms for years when it comes to major events is whether they can handle the influx of people tuning in. We’ve seen platforms like Netflix and HBO Max crash to oblivion when a new show premiers or some exclusive watch party occurs, and it creates a boatload of frustration from every user that’s affected by it.
Now, envision those same people affected by a platform that doesn’t work, and apply it to a football game. I’m not sure about you, but if I’m standing in front of the TV on a Sunday afternoon, chances are a member of my family will yell at me to move because they can’t see it. The game suddenly going black because there’s too many people watching it would undoubtedly be met with a little more fury than a stern “move out of the way!”
Admittedly, Amazon hasn’t had many issues in the past with handling an influx of people watching something on Prime Video, at least nothing public-facing. It’s never had an issue streaming TNF games in the past, albeit with smaller than average crowds since the audience was scattered across a few traditional broadcast providers as well. That being said, it’s entirely possible the company has built out its infrastructure to handle every single person who wants to stream TNF. You sort of have to hope so, anyway.
To me, that seems like a risky assumption to make. I don’t think anyone is actually ever ready for a football crowd (DirecTV has had Sunday Ticket for many years and still sucks at keeping it consistently stable), but maybe Amazon will surprise us. Who knows?
Even if they do, it’s not like people are particularly happy about this arrangement. Many non-Prime subscribers have complained about the need to pay $8.99 per month for Prime Video just to watch a football game they could watch for free in the past. Having a good internet speed is also a concern, since not every household is equipped with the bandwidth to handle a livestream for 3+ hours and all of the other devices on the network.
There’s a lot of new stuff here. It’s the first regular NFL game to be exclusively streamed and not nationally broadcast, it’s the first to transition to a paywall, and it’s the first time Amazon will have all NFL fans use its platform simultaneously. There are a to of bets being made here, and a lot of them could affect how live sports are streamed in the future.
I’m not writing this column as a doom post or hit piece against Amazon. I genuinely hope everything goes well tonight, because it would absolutely suck if it didn’t. But a transition like this can’t go by without receiving a dose of skepticism, which I’m happy to supply given how previous NFL livestreams have gone.
If everything hits the fan as soon as the clock strikes 8:15 p.m. on the East coast, say a prayer that it goes back up soon. It’s not like the NFL will re-evaluate the exclusivity rights Amazon has for TNF – we probably have a few years before that happens.
Until then, you’ll wanna go sign up for Prime Video while the nachos are baking, regardless of whether you like it or not.