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Sunday, February 25, 2024
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Can Streaming Audiences Be As Big As Linear? NFL, Amazon Are Proving It

  • Significant audience growth on 'TNF' brings package closer to traditional TV
  • YouTube also reaches five-year subscriber high for NFL Sunday Ticket
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK — The NFL’s 11-year rights deal with Amazon, worth in excess of $11 billion, was partly a bet that streaming audiences would someday look a lot like those on traditional linear television.

That’s a reality now — and in only its second year, the Amazon deal is creating a critical way for the league to adapt to emerging technology.

Amazon is averaging 13.6 million viewers through its first five “Thursday Night Football” live streams — 26% above its comparable average to start the 2022 season and 42% higher than the full-season average of 9.6 million last year. 

Those increases bring Amazon and “TNF” streaming nearer to the NFL’s overall per-game average of 17.3 million so far in 2023 — itself up 4% from last year and the league’s highest mark through week 6 since 2015.

“This is looking closer to broadcast-type numbers,” said Brian Rolapp, NFL chief media and business officer, at fall league meetings. “It hasn’t quite caught up yet, but there’s been significant growth. … It’s not a mystery why we chose Amazon for this package. Everyone here has some interaction with Amazon, and the reach of that platform is gigantic.”

The league’s digital growth also extends to YouTube, in its first year managing NFL Sunday Ticket after years of satellite-based distribution on DirecTV. The NFL didn’t disclose subscriber numbers, but Rolapp said the current total represents a five-year high for the out-of-market game package. 

The early success of both Amazon and YouTube represent important hedges as the NFL, like all leagues, grapples with growing disruption in media while still operating with a reach-based business model.

“This has started to answer the question of whether you can put games on digital and start to get NFL-like numbers,” Rolapp said.

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