Amazon tries to compensate advertisers after NFL audience shortage

  • Amazon is working to make advertisers whole after “Thursday Night Football” audiences fell short.
  • The tech giant’s viewership was 25% lower than projected, according to an advertising source.
  • Advertisers are likely to give Amazon a pass since “TNF” was popular with young viewers.

Amazon has struggled to make advertisers whole for its “Thursday Night Football” broadcasts on Prime Video after audiences fell short of projections, according to ad agency sources.

Amazon struck an 11-year, $11 billion deal with the NFL for Prime Video to be the exclusive streamer of “TNF” — part of the tech giant’s push to become a mainstream sports player. Amazon was betting it could recoup the cost of the deal with ad revenue while using the NFL pact to market its growing ad business more broadly.

For the 14-game season, “TNF” on Prime Video averaged 9.6 million viewers, according to Nielsen data shared by Amazon Monday. It’s “TNF’s” lowest number since the NFL began selling it to media partners ahead of the 2014 season, according to the Sports Business Journal. (Amazon’s internal data showed a slightly higher 11.3 million viewers.) Amazon did not immediately comment for this story.

Viewership was about 25% lower than estimated, prompting Amazon to give some customers other ad inventory as compensation for the underperformance, according to an advertising executive. Giving away items means giving up the ability to sell that inventory to other advertisers.

The deficit wasn’t entirely unexpected, given the NFL’s first streaming-only broadcast meant a change of habit for viewers accustomed to finding the games on linear television. There were questions about whether the public would find the games on Amazon, and the company made a push to educate consumers about how to stream. People had to be $139-a-year Prime members to access the games (which were still broadcast in the teams’ local markets), and some fans had a hard time finding them on a new platform, despite Amazon’s promotional efforts.

Amazon also faced a learning curve on the ad sales front. It began by asking as much as $80 to reach 1,000 viewers — about double what the telecast typically charges for NFL games — before lowering its asking to about $60.

“TNF” viewership on Prime Video had a median age of 47, according to Amazon — 7 years younger than the NFL average on linear TV. “Amazon has touted their younger audience as a key benefit of TNF’s move to their platform, which is certainly a good thing for marketers looking to reach a younger audience – but I don’t know if that’s enough to balance out the value lost in overall viewership,” said another ad buyer.

But advertisers will likely give Amazon a pass overall, given that this was the first season for a streaming-only “TNF.” Amazon was also flexible on ad rates and has a wide range of offerings – from Freevee and Twitch – that it can leverage to make up for any audience shortfall.

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