I still have a few friends who are invested and proactive enough to forward me articles that will potemtially inspire my own takes. The nature of such support with people whose lives are far busier than mine is typically when a headline or a first graf catches their eye and then invites me to parse through it after clicking on the link.
So I don’t have any fault with the person who forwarded this recap of the first season of a streaming-centric NFL package, surprisingly with a byline from someone who is typically very spot on with analysis of audiences and expectations:
Streaming Off a Cliff: ‘Thursday Night Football’ Audience Dropped a Whopping 41% For the Season on Amazon
Amazon Prime Video averaged 9.6 million viewers for its first season as exclusive rights holder to the NFL’s “Thursday Night Football” package.
Let’s just say that’s a little short of a first down.
That viewer average represented a whopping 41% audience shortfall from the 16.2 million viewers the package averaged in 2021, when it was shared by Fox, the NFL Network, Amazon and local broadcast channels.
Amazon’s 9.6 million viewer performance was also the lowest since the NFL started selling the “Thursday Night Football” package to TV companies in 2014. According to the Sports Business Journal, the previous low was the 14 million viewers averaged in 2020 when Fox and the NFL Network shared the franchise during the quarantine-impacted season.
Wow. Talk about fear-mongering tonality.
But let’s unpack all of this, and, to his credit, Frankel immediately began to provide qualifiers that begin to put this all in a somewhat more complete context.
For its part, Amazon claims that the 2021 viewership average of 16.2 million is distorted by the inclusion of a Christmas Saturday game on FOX that drew 28 million viewers and bogusly inflated the overall season performance.
Without that outsized Saturday performance, the 2021 average drops to 13.3 million viewers, Amazon said, rendering the “TNF” ratings gap between 2021 and 2022 at just 28%.
Good point, sir. But let’s go a little further with a term I suspect you remember but perhaps some of those you report into may not.
Back in my day (insert insipid Seth Meyers graphic here), when cable networks were nascent and those who could receive a particular network varied, those responsible for ratings urged Nielsen to produce a coverage area rating that qualified their delivery based upon the universe that was available for each program so as to create a level playing field. When ESPN and TNT first acquired a package of NFL games for Sunday nights in the late 80s, the networks were available in roughly 60 per cent of U.S. households. So any comparison between those games’ deliveries and those available in the afternoons on CBS and NBC needed to be put through the filter, When qualified accordingly, the audience gap was not quite as severe and, more importantly, the NFL had established a new primetime beachhead that eventually evolved into the medium’s most-viewed programming once NBC took over the franchise in 2006.
A network, of course, available to almost everyone with a television set.
Exactly how many people can receive Amazon Prime Video is an unanswerable question at the moment to those who are not employed by the company. Even the most nuanced of beancounters can’t quite put a number on it, Per a report last month by David Satin on The Streamable, Prime Video did indeed become the number one SVOD platform in the U.S., at least according to what he was able to discern:
Market intelligence firm Parks Associates…has released a new report which shows that Prime Video has surpassed Netflix’s paid subscriber total in the U.S. for the first time in history.
In fact, according to Parks, this is the first time that ANY streamer has passed Netflix in paid U.S. subscribers. Netflix is still the largest single streaming service in the world, with 223 million global users., but the platform has suffered a net loss of 1.8M customers in the U.S. and Canada in 2022, despite a gain of 104K in the third quarter. Netflix does not make its U.S.-only subscriber numbers public, but its current total for the U.S. and Canada is 73.39M subscribers.
So without walking you through the minituae (happy to do so privately upon request), let’s safely say that Prime’s current coverage area is likely in the vicinity of perhaps 65-70 million subscribers–let’s further say about 120 million total persons, if one assumes the average viewers-per-household figure is applicable. We can split hairs further, but I think you see where this is going. Far fewer people can actually SEE a Thursday Night Football game this year than they could last year, when a broadcaster and a cable network augmented Prime’s (at the time) smaller subscriber base.
Amazon boosts this figure with over-the-air availability in the competing teams’ respective markets. But, much like the earlier cable packages which offered similar supplemental coverage, smaller market teams offer lesser boosts. Many of the markets that played in Thursday Night games this season were among the league’s smallest. And as Frankel further added, the games that those markets got to see weren’t necessarily the best crop of offerings, either.
“TNF” matchups generally weren’t interesting this season, with six games pitting two teams that both ended up missing the playoffs. Other contests, such as a week 9 game featuring the 13-3 Philadelphia Eagles beating the 2-13-1 Houston Texans, simply weren’t competitive. (NOTE: Said game also competed with a Philadelphia Phillies World Series game head-to-head–a game available on FOX).
Amazon’s highest rated game was a week 2 matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers, with the game featuring two eventual playoff teams averaging 13 million viewers.
In all, six games averaged more than 10 million viewers.
And as Frankel finally reinforces, which Amazon has consistently pointed out throughout this inaugural season, the viewership it does have is younger and, to them and the league, potentially more valuable:
The median age for the Prime Video “TNF” viewer was 47 this season, which was seven years younger than the median age averaged by the rest of the NFL’s TV rights packages.
Viewership by adults 18-34 averaged 2.11 million, up by 11% over 2021 “TNF” broadcasts. Throughout the season, 22% of “TNF” viewers on Amazon were between the ages of 18-34 vs. just 14% for linear networks carrying NFL games.
Now, I ask you, does THAT sound like something falling off a cliff?
Which then begs the question–if indeed this was supposed to be an objective overview, who would have commissioned such a tone-deaf and, ultimately, misleading headline?
Not the league. Not the platform. Probably not Frankel.
More than likely, a click-bait chasing headline writer at a digital publisher who likely has never subscribed to cable, let alone heard of a coverage area.
Because given what we know, the 9.8 million delivered against the Amazon footprint is, simply put, a larger proportion than the 13 or 14 million FOX and friends delivered against theirs. Coupled with the financial windfall the league received, and the ability to expand deeper into sports content that Amazon is now stepping into with the launch of its daily sports talk shows and, potentially, a separate sports app, it doesn’t sound all that bad for anyone.
Except, if you were like many who reacted to a headline from NextTV.com, you’d think Amazon had made a massive mistake. In a week where they announced 18,000 layoffs in other divisions of the company, one might even infer that those events could have been interrelated.
They’re not fully connected, of course. But I’m not sure how many business reporters might take the time to come to that conclusion. Which means the chances of still more people losing their jobs, not just at Amazon but at other sports-chasing companies, is enhanced, particularly with the potential of a recession and worse looming as 2023 unfolds.
And that’s a loss I’m really not sure anyone wants to be thrown for.
If I sound like Im overreacting, forgive me. I’ve got WAY too many colleagues and friends who are also seeking full-time employment now, and, frankly, the quicker they get hired, the better the chances I might get some opportunities at last, too. I’m certainly not advocating lying with statistics, even though, of course, that’s part of what we’re paid to do when we do work.
But I am strongly advocating that those who report on this stuff, and more importantly those that dress it up for clickbaiting, do a way better job at ACCURATE ways to achieve their goals. Lest they run the risk of their employers perhaps being the next victims of panicked selloffs that could see them join us in being “open to work”.
Do better, folks, PLEASE?!??!
Until next time…