Sports bars, streaming, and Sundays

The most remarkable aspect of the NFL’s new, 10-year media rights arrangement is how unremarkable it turned out to be. True, some games will end up on Peacock, Paramount+ and Tubi. And there was language in press releases about streaming video extras like “premiere VOD,” highlight compilations, condensed games and a special “NFL experience” on Tubi. But overall, the same four networks that currently televise games maintain the vast majority of the schedule, with over-the-air television remaining a centerpiece. The money involved, $100 billion per the Wall Street Journal, strains credulity, but everybody knew it would.

If there is a cultural breakthrough, though, it probably surrounds Amazon’s exclusive national rights to Thursday Night Games.

Ever since Amazon streamed its first NFL game in 2017, Amazon’s presentation on Prime Video has been a simulcast of separate television event. Most of the viewing happens over NBC or NFL Network. Now, starting with the 2023 season, fans outside of the two local-team markets will have to find their way to Prime Video to watch. That requisite will train millions of people in millions of homes, some of whom never use Prime Video or its corporate cousin Twitch, to rely on streaming video to watch live sports.

Next? The NFL’s willingness to hand over a prized asset to a streaming provider sets an important precedent, with pressure on Amazon to perform on behalf of the entire category. Not to be overlooked is that a successful implementation will go a long way toward convincing bar and restaurant owners that Internet video has the chops to handle high-profile sports events like the NFL Sunday Ticket package many of them depend on to bring in patrons and profits. DirecTV’s rights deal for that premium package concludes following the 2022 season, or sooner if the league chooses. Disney has already signaled it’s interested in possibly transplanting the out–of market NFL package to its ESPN+ streaming service, which would result in lots of miniature satellite dishes being removed from lots of sports bar rooftops. There’s a production wrinkle here, too: Amazon also has a chance to show off its original production muscle, as it will no longer simulcast another network’s craftwork, but will take over production duties itself.

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