Thursday Night Football: Can Amazon convert when it counts?

Key insights in this post: 

– Year over year, the audience attention to Thursday Night Football (TNF) was greater for the first five games in 2022 as compared to 2021, stabilizing to similar levels for the next three Thursday games of the season

– As expected, the Amazon TNF audience engages with other Amazon brands significantly more than TNF audiences from years past. Engagement for Prime Video clocked in at 33.6% audience share in 2022 vs 6.61% in 2021 and engagement for Prime at 12.9% audience share in 2022 vs 5.5% in 2021

– 2022 TNF fans continue to have a high affinity to beer brands such as Miller Lite, Michelob Ultra, Bud Light Seltzer and Amstel Light despite Amazon not showing beer advertisements in the telecasts

– There is no substantial correlation between higher engagement for high scoring games OR close scoring games in either 2021 or 2022

The kickoff

Fall 2022 ushered in the next stage of live sports and streaming, with Amazon Prime Video exclusively distributing Thursday Night Football (TNF). But what has the switch to streaming from linear TV meant for TNF audiences? We examined year-over-year audience trends, including attention levels around each of the first eight Thursday games, audience share for platforms, networks, shows and movies and top brands by affinity. 

Although there’s been some discussion among football fans about this season’s early TNF matchups not being the most “exciting” (more on this later), people were definitely paying attention. For the first five games of 2022, there was significantly more audience attention compared to the first five games of 2021. But by game six, the levels were comparable year-over-year, and for game eight, attention around the 2021 game (New York Jets vs Indianapolis Colts) was slightly higher than that of the 2022 game eight (Philadelphia Eagles vs Houston Texans).

The 2022 TNF game with the highest levels of audience attention was the Oct. 6 (game four) matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos, which ended with a Colts win in overtime.

The exciting game

“How good was the game last night?” is a question often tackled by fans and even more revered when it comes to informing ratings success. It’s been a long time assumption that the engagement around a particular game is determined by how “exciting” the game is. Understanding how game-specific characteristics might impact engagement is a hot topic especially as sports rights are under plenty of scrutiny given the evolving media landscape. Diesel took a look at two particular “exciting game” scenarios, high scoring affairs and competitive matchups with low point differentials, to determine if “exciting games” lead to higher levels of audience attention. 

Our team plotted games from 2022 and 2021 seasons using attention on one axis and final point differential on the other. In a regression analysis, a slope (R2) closer to 1 or -1 implies a correlation between two different factors. For games spanning both 2021 and 2022 seasons up until this point, we found there to be little to no correlation between close scoring games and audience attention as evidenced in the chart below. 

The same can be said for games with high total scores and audience attention. Again, we found little to no correlation between those two factors as shown below. This evidence suggests that how “exciting” a game is as signaled by the score does not greatly impact the amount of attention audiences focus on a game, at least as far as TNF or the typical, one off, regular season game is concerned.

Which team wins

Although TNF aired in a different place this season, the engaged audience has remained fairly consistent. Comparing media habits for the 2021 vs 2022 TNF audiences, Netflix continues to lead. Interestingly, the general pattern is slightly less network or streaming platform engagement among the 2022 engagers vs 2021 but with generally the same rank.

Amazon made the controversial decision to ban “ads that promote wine, beer and spirits” but it didn’t seem to affect fans’ affinity for alcohol brands like Miller Lite, Michelob Ultra, Bud Light Seltzer and Amstel Light. If Amazon would be willing to alter this decision, data suggests this would be a great space for added revenue. Meanwhile, with the league’s continuing openness to legalized gambling, sports betting companies FanDuel and DraftKings lead the affinity list with a high affinity score for both brands. 

One major difference between the TNF engaged audience this year compared to last year – and perhaps the best signal that the TNF investment is paying off – is the increase in how much the current cohort is interested in sister service offerings. The proportion of TNF fans also engaging Amazon Prime Video is drastically higher (33.6% in 2022 vs 6.61% in 2021) as well as for Amazon Prime (12.9% in 2022 vs 5.5% in 2021). And perhaps the most important angle of all, 5.41% of the 2022 TNF audience engaged with flagship The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power whereas only 3.75% of the ‘21 TNF audience did the same. That being said, engagement with other Amazon content is more even for major titles like The Boys (3.69% of the 2022 audience vs 3.36% of the 2021 audience), The Terminal List (1.18% in 2022 vs 1.30% in 2021) and Reacher (1.18% in 2022 to 1.30% in 2021). 

Making heads or tails

Although trends show that the higher levels of engagement early on in TNF’s switch to Amazon might be stabilizing, it remains a high-value content asset for Amazon. Early indicators like audience propensity to engage with sister brands and services suggest that TNF can keep audiences active in Amazon environments for longer stretches of time. The success of the new partnership won’t be determined by how exciting the games are but rather the unique ways Amazon can further engage and monetize audiences across their ecosystem. They’ve already tried some interesting activations, like the gameday countdown ticker and clickable ads. It’s also notable that Amazon now has direct access to TNF viewership intelligence and related shopping habits, etc, a huge asset in and of itself. But as far as successfully crossing the goal line, we’ll have to wait a little longer for the booth to come back for a full, comprehensive review!

Note: Affinity measures how much more the Thursday Night Football audience is engaging with these brands versus the average audience. Audience share reflects the proportion of the Thursday Night Football audience that has engaged with a platform/network’s original content, or a show/movie.