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Amazon Prime Video Making Final Preparations For NFL, Thursday Night Football

Amazon Prime Video seems to be equipped with the necessary tools on that end, as it plans to utilize various skycams, super slo-mo cameras and other camera angles to better present the game.

Derek Futterman

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Thursday Night Football logo

This past offseason, there were various changes pertaining to the 53-player rosters across the National Football League’s 32 teams – some moves that have altered the balance of power in both conferences and could lead to a new Super Bowl champion at season’s end. Similarly, both where and how football fans will consume games each week has also gone through a seismic shift, introducing all-digital counterparts to the traditional linear network packages. In total, the agreements run through the completion of the 2033 season, and are sure to alter the landscape of sports media.

Last year, the NFL and Amazon Prime Video finalized their 11-year agreement to broadcast all Thursday Night Football games on the streaming service, along with one preseason game. The media rights deal is the first of its kind, demonstrating the emphasis being placed on streaming technology and fan accessibility amid other changes in sports media. Amazon Prime Video had been simulcasting Thursday night games produced by Fox for the last few years, and was originally going to start producing broadcasts in 2023. The timeline moved up though, thanks in part to a reported eagerness to get started, and now the time has arrived for a new presentation of Thursday night matchups.

“What we learned mostly from our [simulcast] is the power of the NFL,” Amazon Vice President of Global Sports Video Marie Donoghue said. “That’s one of the reasons we ended up acquiring the exclusive rights. NFL fans are avid and rabid, and they expect quality. That’s what we’ll be doing here.”

A priority for Amazon Prime Video, aside from effectively promoting the broadcasts and continuing to build a working chemistry among its crew, will be to appeal to all types of viewers, whether or not they are football fans. It is one of many factors the team hopes will make its broadcast appointment viewing for those interested in live sports.

“We’re an innovation-first company [and] we approach our broadcasts that way,” Donoghue said. “….A lot of what we’re trying to do is program and cultivate a unique experience for fans…. Not everybody wants to watch the game in the same way. We’re not choosing one type of fan to serve; we’re serving all fans.”

With the primary focus on creating the most high-quality, robust broadcast possible from the onset, Amazon Prime Video has assembled a team with vast experience in sports media and one that looks to pioneer a new chapter in broadcasting. Al Michaels, a long-time play-by-play announcer who has been with NBC for the last 16 years calling Sunday Night Football with the late-John Madden and Cris Collinsworth, signed a contract to join Amazon Prime Video when his deal with NBC expired. He is excited for the opportunity to broadcast games on a new platform to a large audience of NFL fans, and to continue bringing his knowledge and expertise about the game on the gridiron to fans.

“It wasn’t that long ago when I didn’t know what streaming was,” Michaels said. “….I find it to be exciting in the sense that all of my friends and my kids and my grandkids think this is about the coolest thing in the world.”

Michaels will be joined by Fred Gaudelli, who will serve as executive producer for the broadcasts. Gaudelli previously worked with Michaels at NBC on Sunday Night Football broadcasts in the same role, and will remain with the network on its executive team and work as a contributor on their Sunday night broadcast’s editorial and production efforts. His move to Amazon Prime Video was catalyzed by the immense potential the broadcasts have to differentiate themselves through the functionality and modernization made possible by streaming technologies.

“NFL fans have a very definitive expectation when they turn on the television,” Gaudelli said. “The best people in sports television work on the NFL, and when it comes to prime-time, I think their expectations are even heightened. If you don’t come with a real, quality show, they’re probably not going to come back.”

Amazon Prime Video seems to be equipped with the necessary tools on that end, as it plans to utilize various skycams, super slo-mo cameras and other camera angles to better present the game. Additionally, the service will embed augmented reality into the broadcasts and allow fans to choose alternate camera feeds to experience the game. Interactive fan features through Next-Gen Stats powered by Amazon Web Services, along with X-Ray technology will also be available for viewers during each contest to keep them engaged and entertained each Thursday night.

“If you only want to watch the main broadcast, you’re going to have a telecast that has every technical innovation that football fans love,” Gaudelli said. “….It’s going to be as good, if not better, than any football telecast they’re used to watching.”

“Fred has maybe the most difficult job of all because he’s going to bring in a whole bunch of new production people,” Michaels added. “We’re going to have some stumbles along the way, but I think in short order by just a few games into the season, you’re going to see a show that rivals any football telecast I can think of.”

Emmy-winning analyst Kirk Herbstreit will join Michaels in the booth as the color commentator for broadcasts, a role he will balance with his current obligations on ESPN College GameDay. This role will make him a pioneer of sorts in that he will work on both linear and streaming platforms interchangeably throughout the season. Having both jobs, albeit covering different levels of football, will be a challenge, but he and his colleagues know his knowledge of the former will help enhance his analysis and coverage of the latter.

“With streaming becoming more and more mainstream in the future, I don’t know if that’ll be the future [where] people are going to say: ‘Hey, you can’t do both,” Herbstreit expressed, “but I’m very fortunate to be able to do both. It’s going to be very taxing and tiring, but I’m looking forward to the challenge for sure.”

Joining Michaels and Herbstreit as the broadcast’s sideline reporter is Kaylee Hartung, who is moving from working from ABC News as a reporter to Amazon Prime Video. While Hartung has worked within sports media in the past, most recently as an award-winning sports reporter on ESPN, she says her time in news gives her a broad perspective on the task at hand and how to enrich the broadcasts.

“I think what I learned in being away from sports was that, at the end of the day, the craft is the same,” Hartung said. “It comes down to great storytelling…. Hopefully, I can find some stories to shed light on that others haven’t heard about, and give the players a platform to shine aside from their work on the field.”

Crafting a first-of-its-kind, high-quality NFL broadcast is a challenge in and of itself, and by bringing on Gaudelli and Michaels, Amazon Prime Video is relying on a known quantity that is coming off a historic season in terms of ratings on NBC. Bringing on experienced professionals was of great importance to Donoghue, who recalled eyeing Gaudelli early in talks to executive produce the broadcast, and from there, was able to assemble proven production and announcing teams to bring Amazon squarely into the forefront of sports media.

“We’ve been working around the clock [for] the past few months, and I can truly say that not only is this group incredibly talented, but they are absolutely the best teammates we could hope to have,” Donoghue stated. “It’s a pleasure working alongside them, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Amazon Prime Video’s coverage of the National Football League will begin with a preseason matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Houston Texans from NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas this Thursday, August 25. The broadcast is set to begin with pregame coverage starting at 7 p.m. EST prior to the 8:15 p.m. EST kickoff. Then on September 15, Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime Video will commence its regular season slate of games with an AFC West matchup between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Kansas City Chiefs.

“I think a lot of people are curious since it’s such a new template on a new platform as to what’s going to go on,” Michaels said. “[It’s] a big tent, [and] we want everyone to come into it…. Come one, come all!”

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Report: No New NBA Media Rights Deal Expected Within Exclusive Negotiating Window

“Starting next week, the NBA will have the ability to engage in negotiations with other companies interested in the media rights package.”

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Courtesy: Nic Antaya, Getty Images

The NBA is currently in the penultimate season of its existing national television media rights deals with The Walt Disney Company and Warner Bros. Discovery, collectively worth a reported $24 billion over the eight-year contracts. The league entered into an exclusive negotiating window with both broadcasting partners starting on Saturday, March 9, but is reportedly unlikely to reach a new deal before its expiration on Monday, according to Alex Sherman of CNBC.

Even if no deal ends up being reached by the deadline, both companies are in discussions about new media rights contracts with the NBA, as confirmed by the league. These discussions follow a 2023-24 season that garnered an average of 1.09 million viewers across ABC, ESPN, TNT and NBA TV, which is up 1% over last year and represents the highest average across networks in four years, according to Jon Lewis of Sports Media Watch. Both networks will begin broadcasting the NBA Playoffs on Saturday, April 20.

“We continue to have productive discussions with Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery on a renewal of our media deals,” an NBA spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC.

Starting next week, the NBA will have the ability to engage in negotiations with other companies interested in the media rights package. As reported by CNBC, Amazon, Apple, YouTube TV, Comcast (NBCUniversal/Peacock) and Netflix have all expressed potential interest through conversations with the league. Numerous reports have indicated that the league is looking to add a streaming element into its next deal and is looking for an increase in rights fees. The NBA could reportedly look to sell games within the In-Season Tournament to a separate media company, potentially adding a fourth partner in the deal.

Warner Bros. Discovery linear network TBS began airing NBA games in 1984, with TNT following four years later. The Walt Disney Company has presented the league since 2002 across ABC and ESPN, which includes broadcasts of the NBA Finals. Both companies are aiming to launch a new joint streaming venture with FOX Corporation in the fall that would grant subscribers access to games and networks from all three companies.

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David Roberts of ESPN: ‘The More Versatile You Are, The More Valuable You Are’

“The last thing we want is talent that’s all the same, which amounts to nothing more than elevator music.”

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David Roberts
Courtesy: ESPN

ESPN is prepared to begin its coverage of the 2024 NBA Playoffs as 16 teams battle to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy as league champions. Various stars from across the Association will participate in the action starting with Round 1 on Friday night, including LeBron James, Jayson Tatum and Nikola Jokić.

Additionally, NBA on ESPN playoffs coverage will mark the postseason debut of the network’s new lead broadcast team of play-by-play announcer Mike Breen, analysts Doris Burke and JJ Redick and reporter Lisa Salters. Redick was originally a member of the secondary broadcast team with Ryan Ruocco, Richard Jefferson and Cassidy Hubbarth, but the departure of Doc Rivers from the lead crew to coach the Milwaukee Bucks led to this change.

Earlier in the year, ESPN Head of Event & Studio Production David Roberts referred to the secondary broadcast team as “the potential making of a succession plan.” With the alteration to the broadcast teams in-season though, he remains optimistic that the network will present a strong playoff performance. Redick brings a different perspective to the lead broadcast crew of a player recently removed from NBA game action who has demonstrated a propensity for analytics and explaining their significance to trends within the game. Outside of his broadcasting work, he exhibits versatility in sports media, appearing on various ESPN programs such as First Take, co-hosting both The Old Man and the Three and Mind the Game podcasts and co-founding ThreeFourTwo Productions.

“Hey, it makes us all look good,” Roberts said of Redick’s versatility. “The fact is that the more versatile you are, the more valuable you are, and JJ Redick and Stephen A. Smith are prime examples of that.”

Smith is a featured commentator and executive producer on First Take, but also engages in a variety of projects outside of the morning show. During the NBA season, he appears in studio or on location for NBA Countdown, hosts his own podcast, titled The Stephen A. Smith Show, and operates his media production company, Mr. SAS Productions.

Smith’s contract with ESPN is reportedly due to expire next year, and he has spoken candidly about his worth on numerous occasions. Additionally, he has stated that he wakes up every morning thinking about how he can make his bosses more money and how to get some of it, a sentiment he elaborated on in his best-selling book, “Straight Shooter: A Memoir of Second Chances and First Takes.”

“Stephen A. loves the NBA, and his commitment to covering the NBA is just simply outstanding,” Roberts said. “He’s unafraid to say what needs to be said. He could care less whether someone is ticked off in the process because he also is an outstanding journalist who will back up his opinions with facts. So when you watch Stephen A., you’re watching a multi-versatile individual who can handle just about anything in broadcasting; in fact, I’ll say he can handle anything in broadcasting.”

Roberts proceeded to explain that a majority of ESPN talent are not “cookie cutter” and approach things in their own way. Earlier in the media conference call, he discussed Malika Andrews, who is in her first season hosting NBA Countdown, and how she brings an “exemplary” work ethic to the program. Roberts also divulged that ratings for NBA Countdown are up 7% year-over-year.

Additionally, he spoke about how studio analyst and color commentator Bob Myers always shows up to every meeting prepared and is an innate winner and team player. As long as the talent are doing things that fit their style and the content objectives of ESPN and The Walt Disney Company, Roberts explained, they are allowed to be their authentic selves on the airwaves.

“That’s the type of versatility we’re looking for,” Roberts said, referencing JJ Redick. “The last thing we want is talent that’s all the same, which amounts to nothing more than elevator music.”

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FOX Sports and The Basketball Tournament Announce Multi-Year Agreement

“With a growing number of players I’ve crossed paths within the league committed to play, this summer will be both competitive and entertaining for TBT.”

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Picture of the trophy for The Basketball Tournament
Courtesy: FOX Sports

The Basketball Tournament (TBT), the $1 million winner-take-all summer event announced a multi-year media rights agreement with FOX Sports to carry games on FOX, FS1, and FS2. As part of the agreement, the network will carry 27 TBT games live on linear television, including three on FOX.

“We are thrilled to make FOX Sports the new home of TBT,” said TBT co-owner and Golden State Warriors guard Chris Paul. “The event has experienced tremendous growth these past few years and this agreement will take it to new heights. With a growing number of players I’ve crossed paths within the league committed to play, this summer will be both competitive and entertaining for TBT.”

“We are excited to kick off our second decade of TBT with FOX Sports,” said TBT founder and CEO Jon Mugar. “Across FOX, FS1, and FS2, we will reach more basketball fans than ever before, further cementing TBT as a mainstay on the basketball calendar. This summer will make for our most electrifying tournament yet.”

TBT is a 64-team, single-elimination tournament hosted across eight regionals. All regional events are hosted by an alumni team representing a powerhouse college basketball program.

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