This NFL season, if you’re watching a Thursday Night Football game on Amazon Prime Video, you’ll likely see all sorts of new things on screen. If a team finds itself on a flight late in the game and everything is on the line, you might see a graphic telling you if the team should go for fourth. When the quarterback catches the ball, the tackle may automatically highlight the most open receivers on the field. As the team runs down the field, you may see lines on the pitch that show not only the kicker’s field-going range, but the exact place from which the winner of the game is more than 50 percent likely to score.
In its second season as the official broadcast partner of Thursday Night Football, Amazon is relying heavily on AI and machine learning tools. Last year, its main goal was simply to deliver good broadcasts – no buffering, no bad halftime shows, and no awkwardness between broadcasters. It was largely successful, and so were the audience numbers Better than most people expected Live broadcast of football only. Now, after a year of experience and a lot of confidence, the company is looking for ways to go beyond just showing the game.
The main thing Amazon heard from viewers was that they wanted to feel more involved in how teams play the game, Sam Schwartzstein, the company’s analytics expert on Friday Night Football. “Their favorite thing is not big hits, not sports, but strategy,” says Schwartzstein. Amazon certainly remains focused on the big hits and theatrical plays. There’s now an auto-generated highlight feed for each match so you can catch up on what you’ve missed, like watching one of the ‘last week’ montages on a TV show, but it also tries to get people into the nuances of football as well.
The main thing Amazon has heard from viewers is that they want to feel more involved in how teams play the game
The Defensive Alerts feature is a good example. Amazon trained a machine learning model on 35,000 plays from the past few seasons to teach it to automatically infer whether a defender is likely to attack on any given play. Where they line up, how they move before the shot, their body language – these all matter, and this is something midfielders and coaches spend countless hours studying on film so they can see it coming on game day. Now, when you’re watching a match, Thursday Night Football might highlight the player who’s about to leave. “What it (the broadcast) does is you can now watch the defense the same way a quarterback does,” Schwartzstein says.
Artificial intelligence is at the heart of a lot of Amazon’s new ideas. The fourth down metric, Schwartzstein says, comes from a model that understands which players are on the court, who is coaching, the situation, and more. If you put the 11 best players in the world on a team, I ask him, would the model ask them to do the same every time? says probably not; There is still danger. “But if you put the middle school team on the other side of the field, it will.” From returns to field goal percentages, a great deal of broadcasts will come from these models.
All of this data will be in Amazon’s “Prime Vision” stream of the game, a secondary stream designed for data-hungry fans. This is clearly where the company focuses most of its efforts. But the beauty of streaming is that there can be more than one way to watch a match; Amazon’s Virtual Streaming is still pretty much a live football show. It also brings back the Dude Perfect guys and the Uninterrupted crew to do their broadcasts. “I think the goal will be to adapt to fan preferences over time,” says Jared Stacey, Amazon’s director of live sports production. “Hopefully we can develop some technologies and features within Prime Vision that make sense to roll out to the main stream, but the main thing is just to serve the fans in the best way possible.”
The other thing you’ll likely see a bit more of in this year’s edition of Friday Night Football is… Amazon. For its first-ever Black Friday (which is about as perfect an Amazon cross-promotional event as you’ll ever find), the company is planning to go all out with shopping integrations and is looking for every possible way to integrate soccer with other Amazon products.
“There’s an opportunity to really build a new tradition with the league,” says Stacey. What can we do with music? What can we do with food? What can we do with shopping? It’s just one game, one day, and commentator Al Michaels won’t start talking to Alexa or giving shopping tips during games anytime soon, he confirmed. But there is clearly a lot of integration to come.
You’ll also probably be able to see everything a little better: Amazon is streaming its games in HDR for the first time. “This is probably the most widely distributed HDR feed, since we’re not tied to broadcast affiliates or decoders,” says Stacey. If your TV supports HDR, you’ll get TNF with HDR, says Stacey. Unfortunately, you won’t get 4K. When I ask Stacey about this, he doesn’t quite answer. “Yeah, you know, we think HDR has the biggest impact on fans, and it’s the most visible to the most people.”
Football isn’t the only sport that streams on Amazon, and many of the things you’re building for TNF will feature in Premier League matches and more. But American football is the most expensive and important piece of content in the US, and Amazon knows that. In its second full season broadcast game, it will continue to try to do the job better – and let’s see what else it can do with the full strength and breadth of Amazon behind it. From artificial intelligence to whole foods to the Lord of the RingsIt’s a long way to go, and Amazon is only getting started.