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Amazon plots AI features and more sports rights ahead of Thursday Night Football season two

Tech giant will inform viewers when it makes statistical sense to go for it on fourth down.

23 August 2023 Steve McCaskill
Amazon Thursday Night Football NFL

Getty Images

  • Amazon is paying US$1bn a year for Thursday Night Football
  • Company has Premier League rights in UK
  • NBA has been linked with a streaming package

Amazon plans to introduce new artificial intelligence (AI) features in its second season as the exclusive broadcaster of the National Football League’s (NFL) Thursday Night Football (TNF) and says the success of the venture will see it be more aggressive in pursuing rights for other sports properties.

The online retail giant had been a non-exclusive NFL broadcaster since 2017 before securing a US$1 billion-a-season, 11-year deal for the league’s first ever streaming-only package back in 2021. 

While the company wanted to ensure both the NFL and viewers could be confident in its ability to produce and distribute TNF, it made significant moves to differentiate its production from rival broadcasters and appeal to younger audiences.

These included the ‘Prime Vision’ simulcast, which collated statistics, data and analytics from three different sources and overlaid graphics across the ‘All-22’ camera, which lets fans see every player on the field.

For season two, TNF plans to take further advantage of Amazon’s wider technology resources to improve its coverage. According to Sportico, up to 20 potential features have been discussed with the company’s computer vision machine learning (ML) team with two headline additions available to viewers.

For season two, Amazon will use AI to indicate how close a team needs to get to the first down line before its algorithms would recommend running or passing the ball on fourth down rather than opting for a punt or a field goal.

This means two digitally-imposed lines will appear on a viewer’s screen at third down – one indicating a first down and another indicating how close they need to get before a fourth down attempt is the better option.

Meanwhile, a neural network can analyse video of a defensive formation and player positional and acceleration data in real time to determine whether a blitz – a defensive tactic designed to disrupt a pass attempt – is likely.

In a press conference ahead of the new NFL season, Amazon said demand for advertising was high given the ongoing Hollywood writers strikes that threatens the supply of scripted television and because of the streaming platform’s targeted advertising capabilities. This means the same partner can advertise different products to different viewers in the same slot.

The NFL, like Amazon’s other sports content investments, is designed to support its core retail business by driving Prime subscriptions.

Jay Marine, Amazon’s vice president of Prime Video and global head of sports, said the company would be looking to add more properties to its portfolio to ensure users not just sign up for Prime, but also stay signed up. The offer of free delivery and other perks mean Prime subscribers tend to spend more with Amazon than those without. 

“We’ll continue to look at live rights,” Marine is quoted as saying. “We’ll be aggressive, but we’ll also be rational.”

SportsPro says…

Amazon’s NFL coverage highlights many of the advantages that streaming can offer over linear broadcasting.

The first is audience. Amazon’s debut season delivered the youngest median age of any NFL broadcast package since 2013. The second is technology. The combination of digital platforms along with the resources of the Amazon behemoth has delivered something entirely different from the league’s existing pool of broadcast partners. And its dynamic advertising experiments hint at the future of television and streaming video.

A few technical teething issues aside, TNF received critical acclaim in its debut season, winning a Sports Emmy. While some properties fear a lack of reach by going entirely behind a paywall, Amazon is now firmly established in the sports broadcasting landscape, working not just with the NFL but also the Premier League and Uefa. The NFL is so impressed, it has even given the company its first live Black Friday matchup.

It would not be a surprise to see the National Basketball Association (NBA), rumoured to be creating a streaming package in its next rights cycle, follow suit.

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