National Football League, Amazon Expand Streaming Deal

The National Football League and Amazon April 29 announced a new multiyear agreement to live-stream “NFL Thursday Night Football” to a global audience across myriad compatible devices.

The deal also includes Amazon’s rights to stream one regular season game globally on Prime Video and Twitch, which will be played on a Saturday in the second half of the 2020 NFL regular season. The game will also be televised in the participating teams’ home markets.

Financial details were not disclosed but media reports say it exceeded the previous $65 million annual deal. The NFL and Amazon first partnered to distribute Thursday Night Football during the 2017 season.

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Amazon Prime Video and Twitch will stream 11 Thursday Night Football games broadcast by Fox, which will be available to more than 150 million Prime members worldwide, and in more than 200 countries and territories on the Prime Video and Twitch sites and apps across connected living room devices, mobile phones, tablets and PCs.

All Thursday Night Football games will also be distributed in Spanish on Fox Deportes and are expected to be simulcast on NFL Network, continuing the league’s “tri-cast” model of broadcast, cable and digital distribution.

“As our relationship has expanded, Amazon has become a trusted and valued partner of the NFL,” Brian Rolapp, chief media and business officer for the NFL, said in a statement. “Extending this partnership around ‘Thursday Night Football’ continues our critical mission of delivering NFL games to as many fans in as many ways as possible both in the United States and around the world.”

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Thursday Night Football on Prime Video and Twitch will continue to offer interactive features like X-Ray and Next Gen Stats powered by AWS. On Prime Video, members can choose to watch the Fox broadcast, the Fox Deportes Spanish language coverage, and from multiple alternative audio options exclusive to Prime Video.

There was no mention whether Prime Video will continue offering play-by-play commentary/analysis option from Hannah Storm and Andrea Kremer — the first all-female NFL announcing team.

In 2019, Thursday Night Football delivered an average audience of 15.4 million viewers, including Fox, NFL Network, Fox Deportes, NFL digital, Fox Sports digital, Prime Video, Twitch, and Verizon Media mobile properties — up +4% versus the 2018 Thursday Night Football season average (14.9 million).

Digital streaming across Prime Video, Twitch, NFL digital, Fox Sports digital and Verizon Media mobile properties in 2019 surpassed an average minute audience of over 1.0 million — up +43% versus the previous year (729,000).

This multiyear renewal also features the Emmy-winning Amazon Original “All or Nothing.” Produced by NFL Films, season five of the sports documentary series premiered on Friday, Feb. 7 with “All or Nothing: The Philadelphia Eagles,” available exclusively on Prime Video. Additionally, since 2017, the NFL has utilized Amazon Web Services as its official cloud and machine learning provider for the Next Gen Stats platform, which provides real-time location data, speed, and acceleration for every player during every play on every inch of the field.

NFL Holding 2020 Draft From Commissioner’s Home Basement

In a switch, there will be live sports tonight (8 p.m. ET) on broadcast television and streaming showcasing the 2020 NFL Draft from the basement of commissioner Roger Goodell’s home in Westchester County, New York.

The annual media event takes on special meaning this year with the world of sports still on hiatus due to the spread of the coronavirus shuttering all sports venues worldwide.

The Draft is typically hosted in a major city with all top college football players in attendance in a party-like setting. Due to the virus, social distancing and travel restrictions, Goodell, with the help of three technicians, will be switching between 200 remote video locations nationwide in players’ homes.

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“It will be a way to socialize and bring people together, and that’s what the NFL does,” Goodell told “Good Morning America.” “I think we’ll be able to bring a great deal of optimism, not just to our fans but to the fact that business is continuing to go forward and operations are going forward. This is a really important event to our clubs and helping finalize our rosters and get ready for a season. So this is really important for us to do it right, and doing it from home and doing it within regulations with no exemptions.”

Goodell said the league has factored in the current quarantine restrictions around offseason activities, allowing for virtual workouts and training among the NFL’s 32 teams.

Teams can hold voluntary classroom instruction, workouts and non-football educational programs using online platforms, according to a league memo reported by The Associated Press. The league’s offseason program concludes June 26.

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“Whatever we do is going to be in compliance with the governing rules of the particular state and it’s going to be consistent with good and recommended medical health practices,” Jeff Pash, lead counsel with the NFL, told Time. “We’re going to do it in a way that preserves competitive equity and doesn’t expose anyone to risks that the medical profession says people shouldn’t be exposed to. We’re going to rely on that kind of guidance.”

Goodell said he’s learned it is impossible to predict the future during a pandemic.

“Our job is to be ready. We obviously will be ready to make alternatives, we’re going to put public safety No. 1.” he said.

The Draft will be live-streamed as a fundraiser for COVID-19 relief efforts featuring Rich Eisen, Deion Sanders and special guest Kevin Hart, among others. Viewers can stream the event through Facebook, Twitter, Twitch, and the YouTube NFL Channel.

NFL, 2K Ink Non-Simulation Video Game Deal

The National Football League and video game publisher Take-Two Interactive (2K) March 10 announced a multiyear partnership encompassing multiple future video games. The partnership marks the return of football-themed games to 2K’s portfolio of sports titles, as well as an expansion of video game properties for the NFL. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Notably, the games will be non-simulation with specific titles, developers and release dates to be announced at a later date, 2K confirmed the projects are in early development and will launch starting in calendar year 2021, during Take-Two’s fiscal year 2022.

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Novato, Calif.-based 2K previously published the NFL 2K franchise, which ran from 1999 to 2004. Other 2K-published games include the NBA video game simulation series, NBA 2K, as well as WWE 2K, The Golf Club 2019 Featuring PGA Tour, Borderlands, BioShock, Mafia, Sid Meier’s Civilization and XCOM.

“We’re thrilled to be back in business with the NFL in a partnership that will span multiple video games centered on fun, approachable and social experiences,” David Ismailer, president of 2K, said in a statement.

Yet, simulation-themed titles have been the singular driver of sports-themed video games. A reality rival Electronic Arts (EA) was quick to point out.

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“EA SPORTS is the exclusive publisher of NFL simulation games, and our partnership with the NFL and NFLPA remains unchanged,” the company said in a statement.

EA reiterated that its near 30-year agreement with the NFL is non-exclusive when it comes to non-simulation games. Indeed, EA Sports’ Madden NFL 20 is the most successful game ever in the franchise, and new modes like Superstar KO and Madden NFL e-Sports broadcasts.

For the NFL, the 2K deal is about expanding the next-generation user base for branded games that are not directly linked to simulated on-field action.

“Expanding the NFL’s presence in the world of gaming has become a focus for the League … and reviving our partnership with 2K was a natural step in that effort,” said Joe Ruggiero, SVP of consumer products at the NFL.

Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles, believes Take-Two’s NFL games will have “extremely low potential” to generate significant revenue, and are more analogous to a game like Glu Mobile’s Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, a lifestyle-themed title averaging under $100 million annually on mobile.

“Take-Two may craft a compelling lifestyle game based on the NFL, but we think such an effort is unlikely to challenge video game fans sufficiently to generate meaningful revenues,” Pachter wrote in a note. “Because the agreement specifically excludes football simulation games, we don’t see any of Take-Two’s games meaningfully impacting EA’s sales of its Madden NFL simulation game.”

 

XFL 2020 Season to Stream Abroad on ESPN Player

The Xtreme Football League (XFL), established in 2001 for one season only by WWE founder Vince McMahon, is slated to return with a 10-game regular season Feb. 8, 2020, on ABC and Fox.

Disney-owned ESPN announced it would stream the entire XFL season on its ESPN Player, the standalone service only available outside the United States.

The eight-team league is divided into two four-team divisions (East and West). The XFL East features the DC Defenders, New York Guardians, St. Louis Battle Hawks and Tampa Bay Vipers. The Dallas Renegades, Houston Roughnecks, Los Angeles Wildcats and Seattle Dragons comprise the XFL West.

While the league will likely field NFL rejects and wannabes, former marquee players such as ex-Super Bowl QB Colin Kaepernick have reportedly met with the league.

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McMahon has made it clear players in the XFL would not be permitted to kneel during the national anthem, the protest act that contributed to Kaepernick being blacklisted from the NFL.

Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick kneeling during a San Francisco 49ers game.

“People don’t want social and political issues coming into play when they are trying to be entertained,” McMahon said in a press interview last year. “We want someone who wants to take a knee to do their version of that on their personal time.”

Both Kaepernick and fellow protester Eric Reid — who repeatedly kneeled during playing of the anthem as protest regarding alleged police brutality toward African American men — settled their grievances against the NFL last year.

Notably, ESPN Player is also streaming  “This Was the XFL,” ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary on the upstart league’s promising but short existence 18 years ago. The doc looks at how the league impacted how professional team sports are broadcast today.

Streaming Video Becoming New Normal, Especially for NFL Fans

The time people spent streaming video continues to climb — up 53% in the quarter (ended Sept. 30) as consumers embrace on-demand videos (63% of all streaming viewing is on demand) on their TVs, PCs and mobile devices, according to new data from Conviva.

“Streaming is quickly becoming the new normal,” Bill Demas, CEO of Conviva, said in a statement. “This is an industry undergoing massive growth, and what happens in the next 18 months will shape what, how and when we watch content in the future.”

Report data was primarily collected from Conviva’s proprietary sensor technology currently embedded in three billion streaming video applications, measuring in excess of a 100 billion streams per year and a trillion real-time transactions per day across more than 180 countries.

Conviva attributed the increase in streaming video consumption due in part to reduced video start failures (down 10%), 6% faster start times, 33% less buffering and the picture quality (bitrate) is 3% better.

PCs saw the most consistent quality improvements year over year with 17% fewer video start failures, 23% faster video start times and 26% less buffering. Mobile saw big improvements in reducing buffering — down 34% year over year — but video start times were only down 4% and video start failures were down only 2%.

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Meanwhile, improvements in overall video quality did not extend to streaming ads. According to the data, 39.6% of all streaming ad attempts failed in the quarter. In addition, ads were plagued by delays including long start times and buffering including instances where it took up to 16.1 seconds for an ad to start and viewers had to endure up to 45.9% of ad buffering.

As a result, roughly 9% to 20% of viewers drop off each time an ad is run. For sports, the largest impact is at the very first ad where 18% of viewers drop, but subsequent ads have less effect.

The fourth ad in a stream triggers the biggest drop as 20% of news viewers, 17% of drama/comedy viewers, and 16% of reality TV viewers stop watching. Overall, 54% of the audience stopped viewing after four ads.

NFL Streaming Skyrockets

NFL viewers continued their mass migration to streaming, with a 77% increase in streaming plays and a 50% increase in time spent streaming compared with Q3 2018. Much of the NFL’s streaming growth occurred on mobile devices, which grew 109% in plays year over year, and TV, which grew 66%. Notably, NFL streaming plays on PCs went down 11% in Q3.

While mobile NFL viewing is up, the minutes per play remains small (8 minutes), inferring that fans are streaming NFL on their phones to check in on their favorite teams versus to watch games in their entirety. Those fans streaming the NFL via TV or PC watched for an average of 24 and 22 minutes, respectively.

NFL fans are also embracing streaming videos on social media, but their appetite varies by team and platform.

Miami Dolphins fans watch more of their franchise’s videos than any other team on Facebook (168% above average) closely followed by Kansas City Chiefs fans (157% above average). New York Giants fans would rather watch videos posted by their franchise on YouTube (211% above average) and New England Patriots fans are loyal to watching team videos on Instagram (227% above average).

The connected TV category once again led all other devices in growth, up 58% in viewing hours year over year compared to PCs (up 36%) and mobile (up 33%).

While Roku maintained the top position by ending the quarter with solid 44% of market share, its growth rate for viewing time (73%) was slightly lower than Amazon Fire TV (78%). Amazon Fire TV closed the quarter with 20% of market share, followed by Apple TV with 9%.

Roku also improved its quality over the past year and now delivers the lowest rate of video start failures at 0.18%, down 52% from the previous-year 2018, and nearly three times as much improvement as Amazon Fire TV which dropped 17% to 0.37%.

Xbox again has the least buffering at a mere 0.15%, while Apple TV is the most improved with buffering down 40%. Once again Apple TV has the fastest video start time at 2.6 seconds and highest picture quality at 6.8 Mbps on average.

Year-over-year comparisons were normalized at the customer level for accurate representations of industry growth. The advertising data included in the report is based on an analysis of nearly 10 billion ad attempts in Q3. The social media data included in the report is based on an analysis of more than 100,000 social posts and 2.5 billion social video views across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram.

 

U.S. Pay-TV Ace Card: Live Sports

With the exception of Amazon Prime Video, subscription streaming video services in the United States — notably Netflix — have shied away from live sports programming.

That reality has been a lifesaver of sorts for traditional pay-TV, which just bowed myriad NFL and college football programming packages for the 2019 season.

New data from Altman Vilandrie & Co., a industry consultant, found that 90% of 5,000 pay-TV survey respondents watch live sports.

Indeed, the survey found that sports — specifically the National Football League — is must-have programming for pay-TV.

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Ninety percent of the sports fans who watch sports regularly are subscribing to traditional or virtual MVPDs (Internet-based TV like YouTube TV or Hulu Live). In contrast, only 67% of sports non-viewers are subscribing to Pay TV.

Of the four major pro sports, the NFL was the number one sport for viewers who wanted to watch their favorite team (88% of NFL fans) and for fantasy implications.

In contrast, the NBA had the fewest respondents who watch because of a favorite team (76%), but the highest respondents that watch because of a favorite player(s) (54%).

This confirms the player-driven focus of the NBA and the impact high profile players have on the sport.

“There’s no question that the NFL dominates the current survey but the breadth and diversity of sports interest among younger viewers predicts a shift in the American sports TV landscape,” Matt Del Percio, principal at Altman Vilandrie & Co., said in a statement. “Sports fans now have many more viewing choices than ever and pay-TV providers must find ways to reach new fan bases while retaining fans for traditional sports who subscribe at very high rates.”

Lionsgate Mounts ‘John Wick Road Trip’ to Promote Home Debut of Latest Installment in the Series

Lionsgate will launch a “John Wick Road Trip” Aug. 31 through Sept. 18 displaying the vehicle’s used by the on-the-run hitman in the series, including the Ford Mustang from the first two movies and a Zero DSR motorcycle from John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum.

The tour also features a traveling museum of series memorabilia.

The exhibit will travel across the Midwest and East Coast to visit select Best Buy Stores, NASCAR events, and the Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings NFL game. Fans will have the opportunity to take a photo with the Mustang, escape an army of assassins with a “John Wick” motorcycle green screen and check out real props from the films. They’ll also get a chance to win “John Wick” swag.

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The third chapter in the movie series is available now on digital and arrives on 4K Ultra HD combo pack (plus Blu-ray and digital), Blu-ray combo pack (plus DVD and digital), DVD, and on demand Sept. 10.

Tour stops include:

  • NASCAR Darlington Raceway Series, 8/31 – 9/1, Darlington, S.C.
  • Best Buy, 9/3, Alpharetta, Ga.
  • Best Buy, 9/4, Buford, Ga
  • NASCAR Indianapolis Motor Speedway Series, 9/6 – 9/8, Indianapolis
  • Best Buy, 9/10, Minneapolis
  • Best Buy, 9/12, Burbank, Ill.
  • Best Buy, 9/13, Downers Grove, Ill.
  • NFL: Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings, 9/15, Green Bay, Wis.
  • Best Buy, 9/17, Mayfield Heights, Ohio
  • Best Buy, 9/18, Reynoldsburg, Ohio

Early ‘Madden 20’ Football Release Helps Jumpstart July Video Game Sales

The early release of Electronic Arts Sports’ annual NFL video game, Madden 20, helped boost July video game sales from the previous-year period, according to new data from The NPD Group.

Total sales topped $762 million from $759 million last year. Software sales skyrocketed 34% to $340 million from $253.7 million — largely due to football.

Hardware sales continue to suffer as consumers await pending new edition consoles from Sony and Microsoft. Console revenue fell 22% to $169 million from $216.6 million. Accessories fell 12% to $254 million from $288.6 million.

Through July, game revenue is down 4% at $6.4 billion from $6.6 billion last year.

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The annual football video game featuring former NFL coach John Madden was released in July instead of August in part to its inclusion of select college teams.

NCAA-sanctioned games have been shelved in recent years following litigation from some players regarding lack of compensation for their likeness or name featured in games and marketing.

The NCAA reached a $20 million settlement in 2014 with plaintiffs, who included lead plaintiff and former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon. It was also the last licensed year for college-themed sports video with NCAA 14.

Madden 20 features a new segment, “Face of the Franchise: QB1,” showcasing elite quarterbacks beginning with their collegiate careers.

EA reached license agreements with 10 colleges: Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Miami, LSU, Oregon, University of Southern California, Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

CBS Sports HQ Set Single-Day Streaming Record Super Bowl Sunday

CBS Sports HQ, the free ad-supported streaming sports news network, set new records for daily, weekend and week-long viewership from Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.

While TV ratings for the game — which saw the New England Patriots win their sixth Lombardi Trophy — were the lowest in 10 years, online viewership set records, with about 7.5 million unique devices streaming the game – up 20% from Super Bowl LII.

Streamers watched more than 560 million total minutes of live game coverage, which was up 19% from last year, according to BizJournals.com. About 2.6 million viewers streamed the game per minute, which was up 31% from last year.

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Just ahead of its one-year anniversary, CBS Sports HQ set single-day records for unique viewers, with more than one million viewers on Feb. 3, and streaming minutes, with nearly 14 million minutes streamed. The service also set new weekend viewership records for audience and streaming minutes, and a week-long record for streaming minutes.

“Big events drive big audience, and this weekend was no exception with our most viewers and most consumption yet,” Jeffrey Gerttula, EVP & GM, CBS Sports Digital, said in a statement. “We know the audience will continue to grow as we focus on delivering the coverage sports fans want, on any device, with no barriers to watch.”

Along with several live daily shows, CBS Sports HQ delivered additional on-site reports leading up to the Super Bowl, and on game day streamed 10 hours of original pre-game coverage, plus post-game analysis and highlights.

 

Sky Bowing OTT Video Service Featuring NBA, NFL Games — Including Super Bowl LIII

Comcast-owned Sky in January is launching an over-the-top video service in the United Kingdom showcasing 40 games from the NBA and NFL – including Super Bowl LIII, Feb. 3, 2019 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Dubbed Sky Sports USA, the service will be offered from Jan. 3 through Feb. 5 as part of Sky’s £18 monthly Sky Sports subscription, or from £7.99 daily via the broadband-specific Now TV Sports pass.

Sky Sports USA will feature every NFL game through the playoffs. On the hardwood, U.K. subs can stream NBA’s annual London game, featuring the Washington Wizards against the New York Knicks on Jan. 17. On Jan. 21, the league marks Martin Luther King Jr. Day with three games, headlined by the Memphis Grizzlies.

“Every year, the NFL and NBA London games sell out in a matter of minutes and every year the following for both sports in the U.K. gets bigger,” Barney Francis, managing director, Sky Sports, said in a statement.

“It’s a perfect time to launch a pop-up channel to make sure our customers get the very best of American sports.”