There’s no dispute that the NFL draws a live audience unlike any other product, wherever the NFL televises its games. This year’s unprecedented shift from broadcast TV to exclusive streaming on Thursday nights sparks natural curiosity regarding the actual number of people who can and will seek out the game — and purchase the ability to watch it on Amazon Prime Video.
The first test came in the first game of the second week of the 2022 regular season. Chargers at Chiefs. Nielsen, retained by Amazon to create apples-to-apples numbers (ideally) between streaming and TV, said Thursday that 13 million had tuned in for the game played a week earlier.
On Friday, Austin Karp of Sports Business Journal added some details. With roughly 602,000 viewing the game on local TV in L.A. and another 555,000 in Kansas City, the streaming-only audience was 11.84 million.
There are other details that are relevant to a full understanding of the Week Two audience. An industry source has explained to PFT that factors such as “co-viewing” (viewer per household) and same-day viewing (the official term is “time-shifting,” which makes it sound a lot more interesting than it is) need to be scrutinized in order to better understand the reported numbers. If those calculations were, for example, significantly higher than usual, they would drive up the total viewership.
The fact remains that the ceiling for a game like Chargers-Chiefs on a three-letter network would have been at least 20 million. Thus, there’s plenty of work to be done to get streaming to where TV was and still is.
Also, it’s just one game. A very good game. What will the numbers be for less compelling games, especially as matchups that looked good in May inevitably look worse as the teams involved play more and more games?
At some point, we’ll see the audience numbers for Steelers-Browns. The quarterback matchup, relative to Chargers-Chiefs, didn’t help. The buzz from Nielsen releasing better-than-expected numbers for Chargers-Chiefs may have given the Week Three game a boost.
It’s an interesting story because the league has deliberately sacrificed short-term eyeballs (but not cash) in the name of getting ahead of long-term trends. How long will it take for the long-term trends to come to fruition? And can Amazon (and, inevitably, other streaming services) capture the same audience that traditional TV continues to enjoy?
Like the shift from three or four over-the-air networks to cable, audience size will likely shrink during the shift from traditional TV to streaming. But live NFL action continues to defy the trend toward on-demand viewing. Ultimately, time will tell whether the TV audiences to which the NFL has become accustomed will be replicated through streaming.