NFL Discussions Highlight SBJ Media & Tech Conference

Reps from the league and Amazon Video report on their partnership

The NFL was front and center at Sports Business Journal’s Sports Media & Technology Conference last week. Jim DeLorenzo, head of sports, Amazon Video, and Vishal Shah, SVP, digital media business development, NFL, explained Amazon’s Thursday Night Football streaming efforts, and Mary Ann Turcke, president, NFL Digital Media and NFL Network, discussed her first eight months on the job and the future of NFL Digital Media and the NFL Network.

“It has been a resounding positive experience across all devices that is delivered in HD and is also seamless to users,” Shah said. “The international market is a strategic priority for the league as we want to be a global entertainment property. So Amazon Prime helps drive engagement and teach us about fans in the global market.”

Jim DeLorenzo of Amazon said the company will evaluate its next step regarding any future NFL deals after the season is complete.

DeLorenzo said that, on average, viewers are watching 50 minutes of each game.

“It’s not just fly-by viewers; they are actually engaged with it,” he said. “That goes to the expertise of our technical and product teams and a lack of latency as in some cases we are ahead of the cable platforms. Negative latency is something people were not expecting.”

Amazon is only a few games into its NFL streaming package, and DeLorenzo considers it far too early to say what the next step will be or even if there is a next step.

“We want to see how things continue to perform and then work backwards to find out that next step,” he said. “Whether the content is sports or not. we always start with the customer and work backwards from there.”

The NFL deal made sense, he added because the content is in high demand in the U.S. and globally.

Mary Anne Turcke of the NFL said that the NFL Network has seen ratings gains in crucial dayparts.

Turcke has been in her new post for only eight months, and, at the NFL Network, the recent returns on ratings have been positive. Key dayparts are seeing gains of 20% over last year as shows like Good Morning Football” shift focus.

“We have seen great growth in the younger demo as a show like Good Morning Football combines pop culture with sports,” she said. “Some avid fans give us a hard time but it is easy viewing and that helps.”

When asked about a technology that exited her Turcke left aside the usual suspects like VR or HDR and instead focused on what Shah hinted at: understanding NFL fans. Amazon understands customer data and how to make sense of it.

“What wins the day is capabilities, not technology,” said Turcke. “Right now, we have a one or two-dimensional view of our fan base.”

Turcke believes NFL content will continue to be seen on more global platforms. Also, things like curated news feeds will be important to keeping fans engaged and monetizing those fans.

“You want to be where the younger people are, but you need to put a governor on going all the way [to where they are today],” said Turcke. “One day, they will have a mortgage and kids and will realize that TV is a cheap form of entertainment.”

For example, there are occasional reports of concerns that the Red Zone channel is taking viewership away from the regular regional and national NFL game broadcasts.

“If you can get a millennial viewer into the NFL by having them watch the Red Zone channel at some point,” she said, “you can attract them to watch full games.”

The subject of the next round of NFL rights came up and the constant debate is whether the likes of Amazon, Google, or Facebook would want to take a stab at snagging one of the current major NFL TV deals. One advantage the traditional TV networks currently hold? Production experience.

“The production element is not a minor one,” said Shah. “The ability to be able to produce games every single week in a differentiator for our TV partners. So, when thinking about digital distribution how do you build out that capability as well?”

Social media is also an important part of the NFL’s plan for growth, and Turcke said that there is an opportunity to use it to make players into superstars and to create a funnel of superstars so that fans are constantly engaged.

“There are cool ways to integrate different kinds of content, like snapchat and short stories,” she explained. “During this time, it is really about test, iterate, fail fast, then try again. But at the root [of our efforts] are a couple hundred players and helping them curate their social media experience. Provide them with a safe environment that, unless they do something stupid, has upside for their brand and exposure.”

Turcke says the key to the future will be having a ubiquitous presence for fans: “People are going to be annoyed if you are not everywhere. The quilted patterns of where to find content aren’t tolerable anymore.”


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