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With NFL Deal, 175 Million Customers, Amazon Prime Video Moves Into Netflix’s Neighborhood

What a 10 days it’s been for Amazon Prime Video, the silent sister of streamers (rivalled perhaps only by Apple TV+), capped off with today’s announcement that it will jumpstart by a year its groundbreaking deal with the NFL.

Under the newest terms of the deal, Amazon will take over a year early its original telecasts of 15 Thursday Night Football games per season, turning one of legacy TV’s most popular programming blocks into a digital-first show, with potential for all kinds of new approaches to the hoary formats of live game broadcasts.

The deal was originally set to run for 10 years, beginning in the 2023 season. It now adds the 2022 season, at a similar per-year price reported around $1.2 billion, or about double what incumbent Fox was paying for a shared broadcast with the NFL Network with online rebroadcasts by Amazon.

The company is promising a big re-think of how it handles said broadcasts, now that it will control the entire show. It dangled some examples during its rebroadcasts, including having prominent personalities from its Twitch live-streaming service doing play-by-play. While that sounds outlandish to non-gamers, live streamers, especially those playing the Madden NFL franchise from Electronic Arts, already know all about directly engaging a live audience amid flurries of intense game play. Better still, they’re able to do it in online chat rooms with hundreds or thousands of viewers, who not incidentally are far younger than typical NFL fans.

We also can expect tons more game data during a contest, and a far tighter relationship between what’s on the screen and what can be easily bought by clicking through to NFL storefronts on Amazon and Amazon Fire devices.

Amazon Prime Video also said last week that it will show 21 Yankees baseball games this season in the New York region, one of the benefits of its investment in the YES regional sports network alongside the Yankees and Sinclair Broadcasting. Other live sports to come on the service include more Premier League soccer matches in England, plus tennis and swimming championships.

The news comes after Amazon’s crushing of its quarterly earnings last week, and more particularly, its unusually public conversation about Prime Video, an elder sibling seldom discussed by its owners, or even by outsiders amid all the squabbling streamers trying to get noticed over the past year of pandemic-fueled viewing.

Amazon said in CEO Jeff Bezos’ last investor letter (he moves to chairman in July) Prime Video now has a whopping 175 million users, far ahead of Belle of the Pandemic Ball Disney+ (which crossed 100 million subs in February) and just 33 million behind Netflix. Finally, this past several days, Amazon seemed ready to talk about what Prime Video is doing, especially for its broader business.

“We look at Prime Video as a component of the broader Prime membership and making sure it’s driving adoption and retention as it is,” said Dave Fildes, Amazon’s head of investor relations, said during last week’s earnings call. “It’s a significant acquisition channel in Prime countries. And that we look at it and see that members who watch video have higher free-trial conversion rates, higher renewal rates, higher overall engagement.”

And those customers are using the service a lot.

CFO Brian Olsavsky said during the earnings call that streaming hours over the past year were up more than 70 percent on Prime Video. He didn’t provide any detail on the actual numbers, but the relative jump is impressive, even in a year that saw online video viewing skyrocket for everyone in the sector.

The service is serving up a wide range of programming these days, long past its first tentative steps into originals with Alpha House and Betas, or even what might be called its chamber pop era under Roy Price with critical darlings such as Transparent and Man in the High Castle.

Prime Video subscribers these days are seeing original episodic series and features such as The Boys, John Ryan, Them, Coming2America, Invincible, and Bezos personal favorite The Expanse.

There’s plenty of heat for new shows too, judging from the latest breakdown by Tubular Labs of most-watched YouTube videos in the past month connected to Prime Video shows. The list is led by a new Michael B. Jordan action film based on a Tom Clancy character:

The array of originals include a nice array of prestige entries too, fueling Prime Videos during its best-ever awards season.

The season, which ended April 25, saw multiple awards and nominations for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Small Axe, Time, One Night in Miami, and Sound of Metal, including two Oscars for the latter project. Overall, the company received 10 Golden Globe nominations (and three wins) and a dozen Academy nominations. That’s still only a third the haul of Netflix, but suggests the growing depth of prestige fare on Amazon Prime.

The service also is rolling out international originals – including La Templanza, Guerra de Likes, Paatal Lok, and We Children From Bahnhof Zoo. – useful as the parent company continues to expand around the globe.

Prime Video in fact may be one of Amazon’s secret weapons as it extends Prime around the world, Fildes said, pointing to Brazil, where Prime Video was offered as a stand-alone service before the parent Prime service came to the giant market. He credited Prime Video with helping recruit customers into Prime, a one-two punch no other streamer could pull off.

“…That was, as an example, a great way to expose people to Amazon,” Fildes said. “And as we launched the broader Prime in Brazil, it was a great mechanism to (bring) folks into that program.”