The NFL’s flirtations with technology companies are finally getting serious. On Tuesday the league announced that it will stream 10 Thursday Night Football games on Amazon next season. The $50 million deal is an evolution of the one that brought pro football livestreams to Twitter last year at a price of $10 million.
Like the Twitter deal, the Amazon-NFL tie-up will likely have a relatively modest impact, at least in the short term. The games will also be broadcast on CBS or NBC, with Amazon picking up their telecasts for its stream. The TV networks will also still be able to stream the games on their own websites. And none of these companies will be able to stream the games to fans’ phones, since Verizon has already secured mobile streaming rights for the coming season. Bottom line: Anyone who’s set in their football-watching ways won’t have to change their habits (unless you were one of the 300,000 people who dutifully watched last year’s games on Twitter and thought that was going to be your new routine).
But an Amazon-NFL partnership is a more logical fit than one with Twitter, and it could portend more dramatic deals in the future. Unlike Twitter, Amazon is already a destination for television content, thanks to its Prime streaming service and its video rental store. Its video app has been a set-top-box staple for years; Twitter’s just launched in September. And Amazon Prime customers love buying things so much they actually put physical buttons around their houses to fulfill their consumer impulses. They’re probably a receptive audience for more commercials and ads, right?
The NFL, meanwhile, gets to continue to hedge its bets against the dwindling number of cable subscribers by dipping its toe into digital streaming and reaching a new set of viewers. And Amazon is a particularly useful ally since the company is deep-pocketed and, at times, ruthless. If the NFL can convince tech giants that they need football, it will have an easier time maintaining its sky-high broadcast-rights deals even if its ratings decline.
The deal is another sign that live sports — the primary foundation that’s propping up the pay-TV ecosystem — may be up for grabs sooner rather than later (especially since Netflix has already upended the economics of scripted television and stand-up comedy). The bigger Jeff Bezos’s checks to the NFL get, the more chaos we’ll see in the world of cable.