On Thursday night, Fox aired its final Thursday night game. And the NFL may have enjoyed a massive Thursday night audience for the last time, in a while.
According to the NFL, the Week 15 Chiefs-Chargers game generated an average audience of 18.0 million across all platforms, including Fox, NFL Network, Fox Deportes, Fox Sports digital, Fox Deportes, Amazon Prime Video, Twice, and Yahoo Sports mobile properties.
Next year, the primary delivery device for Thursday Night Football becomes Amazon Prime Video. No Fox. No NFL Network.
The question becomes whether Amazon Prime will attract an audience similar to the one that Fox generates. The safe bet, at least at first, is that it won’t. When it comes to NFL games, broadcast networks continue to attract a live audience like no other. Millions still rely on the free, over-the-air signals that are captured by modern-day rabbit-ear antennas. Although millions now have Amazon Prime, how many who would watch a game on Fox (or, before that, NBC and CBS) don’t and won’t pay the annual fee to see live NFL games on Thursday night?
Amazon will pay a premium for the ability to force Americans to change their habits. That’s really the goal. Although the games will be televised via free affiliates in local markets, most fans will see TNF only with Prime. How many who don’t already have Prime will get Prime in order to watch the games?
Basically, Amazon hopes to accelerate the transition from traditional TV to streaming. If any property can help pull that off, it’s the NFL.
It may take some time. And it could be a challenge. As the audience continues to fracture, it will become harder to pull it together simultaneously for a live TV event. But if anything can do it, it’s the NFL.
That’s what Amazon is paying for. And with the clock ticking on the traditional TV model, that’s why the NFL is willing to take a short-term hit in the number of people who consume live games. If the NFL can take the streaming phenomenon to and beyond critical mass, the NFL will prove its value as the world continues to pivot from cable and satellite to streaming.