Last night wasn’t Amazon’s first NFL rodeo. It was, however, the biggest Bezos bull ride to date. By far.
By plunking down $1 billion per year for Thursday night games previously seen by the much larger audience a three-letter network can muster, Amazon secured exclusive dibs on the game. On one hand, it was part of an historic pivot to streaming. On the other hand, and as Chris “Mad Dog” Russo so entertainingly put it on his SiriusXM show, it was a money grab.
Amazon started simulcasting 10 Thursday night games per year in 2017. In 2020, it had an exclusive Saturday game between the 49ers and Cardinals. Last night was its first exclusive Thursday game on its new contract with the NFL. (Initially, Amazon was scheduled to take the games as of 2023. Amazon started a year early, supplanting Fox’s $660 million annual payment.)
So how did it go? Not from the standpoint of quality of the broadcast (it’s frowned upon, as I’ve learned the hard way over the years, for folks employed by one network’s NFL game coverage to comment on another network’s NFL game coverage), but from the perspective of the streaming experience.
My household shifted to streaming a few years ago, ditching DirecTV and adopting YouTube TV. I was nervous about it at the time, but our dedicated, high-speed fiber line and routers up and/our out the wazoo made the transition seamless. The picture is clear and clean and there’s rarely anything more than a flash of a buffer.
Also, it’s very easy to pause, rewind, and fast forward on YouTube TV. That’s something that can get taken for granted.
I learned that last night. I paused the game at one point in the first quarter because my 57-year-old body contains a 57-year-old prostate. The plan was to catch up after returning. But there was no way to fast forward to the exact spot where the game began again. So I overshot. Then I had to go backward. I went too far. Meanwhile, more of the game is happening. So I just used a Lee Corso catch phrase and watched the damn commercials. It was, to say the least, frustrating.
But at least the image was clear, and there was no issue with audio not matching video. Other than the inability to quickly navigate via fast forward and rewind (and the obvious inability to change channels without exiting the app and pulling up YouTube TV), it was great.
Then came the second half. I paused during halftime (popcorn, whiskey, prostate, cigar), and then I did the fast-forward game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey mixed with Whack-A-Mole. While trying to catch up, I somehow was taken all the way back to the commencement of the pregame show.
I don’t know how it happened. Maybe I did something on my remote. I don’t think I did. Even if I did, the interface should be designed to present idiots like me from doing idiotic things.
And so I had to fast forward through 75 minutes of pregame chatter, two quarters of football, and halftime before getting to the third quarter. It took time. And the game kept going, with me not knowing what was happening — and knowing I’d have to watch the stuff I missed and then dare to try to catch up by forwarding through the commercials.
Finally, I found the right spot in the broadcast. And that’s when the buffering began. Three seconds off, two seconds on. Continuously. Non-stop. I wondered whether every Thursday night will be like this. I actually considered just exiting the app and watching the rest of the game later on NFL+. (I forgot that the game is also available to watch live on NFL+.)
It definitely wasn’t an issue with my Internet. I never have issues like that with YouTube TV, or any other streaming service.
Bottom line? Whatever caused the incessant buffering must be ironed out. And the ability to fast forward and rewind must be improved, allowing for an easy and reliable way to stop in the right spot.
It’s almost as if they’ve engineered the controls to discourage people from trying to not watch the commercials. Unless and they quickly make the appropriate changes to the ability to get through the commercials and back to the game, maybe that’s precisely the reason for making it so hard to do it.