Rating for NFL’s Amazon Prime debut is a good sign for streaming

The NFL moved its games to streaming, and fans followed.

Nielsen reported that the NFL’s first game available exclusively through streaming on Amazon Prime — last Thursday’s contest between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs — averaged 13 million viewers.

The number exceeded the 12.5 million viewers Amazon had Promised Advertisers and signaled both the Popularity of the NFL and the viability of a streaming-only telecast to a large audience.

Of the 13 million viewers, nearly 12 million watched the game on Amazon Prime, while the rest watched on broadcast TV, which was available in Los Angeles and Kansas City.

Amazon said its internal measurement system pegged the average audience at 15.3 million viewers.

The NFL has hoped Amazon can help it reach younger viewers, and the early returns are positive. Amazon said Chargers-Chiefs was the highest-rated NFL game this season among adults aged 18 to 34, nearly 20 percent higher than the average NFL telecast.

With ‘Thursday Night Football’ on Amazon Prime, the NFL bets are streaming

The e-commerce giant is paying more than $1 billion for the rights to exclusively televise “Thursday Night Football” this season, believing live sports can help add value to its Prime membership, which was originally conceived to offer free shipping to customers. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Amazon’s head of global sports, Jay Marine, wrote a memo to employees after the game that said the company added more Prime sign-ups during the three-hour window of last week’s game than during any other three-hour window in the service’s history. (Amazon Prime has some 200 million subscribers worldwide.)

Amazon has an exclusive package of Premier League games in the United Kingdom and found a similar phenomenon. The two biggest days of Prime sign-ups there coincided with their soccer telecasts.

During last week’s game, Amazon had hundreds of customer service representatives available to field Troubleshooting phone calls from fans who could not find the game. There were not widespread issues with the telecast or its logistics, although some anecdotal data on social media suggested some fans dealt with buffering issues in the second half.

Certainly, the game’s marquee matchup, pairing two of the league’s better teams and star quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert, helped Amazon’s viewership. The Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers play Thursday night this week, and the audience numbers will again be watched closely.

And despite the success of Amazon’s debut, linear TV executives were quick to point out that TV still delivers more viewers. Mike Mulvihill of Fox Sports noted that last year’s Chargers-Chiefs Thursday night game on Fox drew more than 18 million viewers. The NFL’s opening night Thursday game on NBC this season between the Los Angeles Rams and Buffalo Bills drew more than 21 million viewers across TV and digital platforms.

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