Tim Cook once opined “The Future of TV is Apps” and those words were proudly displayed on a screen behind him when he introduced the updated Apple TV back in 2015. Just a week after the fourth-generation Apple TV went on sale, Apple commanded 31% of the streaming market, well ahead of Amazon and Roku, which at that time were the leaders. Two years on, we haven’t seen much new innovation from Apple TV but we have certainly seen a lot of content development, innovation and marketing and licensing leadership from Amazon.
This week Amazon and the National Football League (NFL) announced a licensing partnership for the 2017 season. Amazon will have the streaming rights to 10 Thursday night games during the Fall 2017 season. The deal is a switch from the NFL’s 2016 season partnership with Twitter. In 2016 Twitter and the NFL debuted their Thursday night streaming partnership with the N.Y. Jets vs. Buffalo game and reached 2.1 million people. Just as with the Twitter partnership last year, Thursday night games will be simulcast on network broadcast (CBS or NBC) and on cable via the NFL Network. That’s where the partnership similarities end.
Twitter streamed the games free of charge. Amazon will only make the Thursday night games available to Amazon Prime members. Amazon is said to have paid $50 million for the 10 games, whereas Twitter paid $10 million for their deal last year. Of course, Amazon has an existing streaming service whereas Twitter did not. Amazon also has a platform with all sorts of commerce opportunities, Alexa their AI assistant and, perhaps more importantly, millions of member profiles with credit cards on file. This partnership is rife with many more opportunities beyond the streaming games — the power of the Amazon platform.
Last year’s test with Twitter was another proof point that showed the NFL and the entertainment world that consumers are happy to get their sports content streamed across any device and it showed a snippet of possibility. At the time I wrote how Twitter was a great partner to drive engagement for their platform as fans could talk smack throughout the game with the close proximity of game/tweets. While that was great for driving higher active-user numbers for Twitter and growing their user base, there wasn’t any commerce connected. Amazon has the ability to drive equal engagement (sans tweeting in the interface) and, more importantly, more folks opting into Prime (NFL games, music, and free shipping ...) and the biggest and e-commerce platform. For those reasons and only streaming to Prime customers are probably big contributors to the NFL doubling their asking price for the 10 games. Even without knowing all the details, this is big win for both Amazon and the NFL.
Where does this latest entertainment leave Apple TV? While I’m a big fan of Apple, I have to say this is yet another area where Apple has been outdone by a Seattle tech giant. In the last year, Amazon has continued to build out their entertainment business, adding more original content and winning their first ever Golden Globes. The future of TV may be apps but the content and the power of the platform behind the apps has to be creating better and more licensing deals that deliver more eyeballs and potential revenue upside. Apple seems to continually be outplayed — although they do have a shiny new company headquarters.
This new partnership with Amazon should be a great testing ground for Amazon partners looking to take advantage of the Amazon streaming sponsorship. Now is the time to start thinking about your commerce partnership with Amazon and how you can work your way into their advertising opportunities. And let's not forget about testing ways to get your brand content into Alexa as a way to accompany all those information and service requests during Thursday night games. As marketers, our job is to ensure our brands and services are nimble enough to adapt and execute for this upcoming season and test several plays.