Prime Video Changes by Staying the Same

If Prime Video starts winning Tier 1 sports broadcast rights, it won’t be because of a change in strategy.

The hearts of sports executives around the world were sent aflutter after Bloomberg News reported that Amazon’s Prime Video unit is preparing a bid for exclusive broadcast rights to Italy’s top soccer league, Serie A.

Why the fluttering tickers? Because Prime Video has a huge content acquisition budget. (Full disclosure: the author’s longtime Lady works for Prime Video’s content acquisition management [CAM] team.) Because Prime Video has 200 million subscribers. Because the sports industry has been upended by Covid. 

It’s one thing for DAZN, a service with a sub-ten million subscriber base, to swoop in with a big check for some top broadcast rights. Golden Boy Promotions, a boxing group headed by Oscar De La Hoya, may cash that check and figure that fight fans will find them. Boxing is a sport about beating people up; its audience inherently narrow. Soccer (along with football, baseball and several others) wants to be broad. 

Prime Video also wants to catch up to Netflix, Hulu and Disney+. Most of those two hundred million sets of eyeballs aren’t watching Prime Video each night. People subscribe to Prime for the two-day shipping, not for the shows and movies.

Prime Video is willing to spend, sometimes lavishly. $13 million for ‘Late Night’, a festival film starring a TV actress. $200 million for a Sci-Fi film starring Chris Pratt. $10 million per episode for a raunchy superhero series. 

What is top-level Italian soccer worth to a worldwide streamer that needs more viewers?

Italian soccer is very popular in Italy. The biggest stars on Italian soccer teams — none of whom are Italian, by the way — are very popular throughout Europe, and parts of Asia, North America and Africa. There are 38 games in a Serie A season. Each weekend, there are eight broadcast windows. That’s 300 times per year where Italian soccer fans might open the Prime Video app to watch a ball being kicked around for two hours. 

All of those things are good and attractive to Prime Video. All of those things have surely been touted to Prime Video by Italian soccer execs. “$5 million per two-hour soccer game or $10 million for one hour of ‘The Boys’, which is the better deal?”

Here’s the rub: sports ain’t scripted, and scripted shows and films fit better with streamers.

On-demand series and films like ‘The Boys’ or ‘Late Night’ get watched repeatedly by their fans. Live soccer — like all live sports — is almost exclusively a one-time customer experience.

Series and films get watched at varied times, easing the load on the tech infrastructure of Amazon and internet service providers (ISPs). Live sports gets consumed simultaneously by all viewers, often resulting in streaming quality problems during popular games. (Prime Video endured this during the Cardinals-49ers NFL game in December.)

The rights to popular series and films have long term value. Prime Video’s ‘My Spy’ film was relatively popular, and now Prime Video has intellectual property rights for a potentially popular sequel. A popular Serie A match (or NFL game, for that matter) offers no residual value for future sporting events. Sports execs ask for escalating rights fees with every contract renewal.

Lastly — and most unfortunately for sports execs — sports have lost their ability to boost neighboring programming. On Sunday, about 40 million people were watching NFL football on Fox from 8 pm to 9 pm. During the same 8 pm hour the next night, a mere 7 million people were watching Fox’s most popular scripted series, ‘9-1-1’. 

Sports fans have become bifurcated from most general entertainment, robbing sports broadcast rights of their former ripple-effect value. An acquisition of Italian soccer broadcast rights would make for splashy headlines in the media, but Prime Video execs know that Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic offer little in the way of support for adjacent films and series.

Prime Video will win Italian soccer rights if the price is low enough to be justified as an independent sports property. They will not win those rights if Sky Sports — the current owner of Serie A broadcast rights — or some other broadcaster wants Italian soccer rights for reasons beyond game-day audience reach. That’s the likely reality for sports execs, no matter how badly they want Prime Video in the game.

*Lady is the preferred nomenclature for female significant others in SoCal Latino culture. It can be used to refer to girlfriends, fiancés, domestic partners, wives, etc. Yo soy no Latino, but I like the term.

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