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Amazon locks up exclusive for NFL Thursday Night Football for a decade

Starting in 2023, Amazon will be the only place to watch the NFL's Thursday Night Football games nationally.

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Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Joan E. Solsman
3 min read
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Amazon Prime Video has locked up the national rights to the NFL's Thursday Night Football games, the biggest sports deal with a streaming service so far. Amazon 's deal is part of a complex matrix of licensing arrangements the NFL unveiled Thursday. As a whole, the deals meaningfully broaden the online availability of many of the NFL's games while still largely keeping the league partnered with traditional media companies and their regular TV networks -- Amazon being the major exception. 

The deal marks a new stage in the evolution of TV to streaming. Amazon has been streaming NFL games for four years, but it's never negotiated and won exclusive rights to as many NFL games for this long. Online video has only grown in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic; last year the number of streaming video subscriptions worldwide topped 1 billion for the first time. Live sports -- and NFL games are the most-watched sports on TV in the US -- have been the main type of programming that traditional networks have counted on for reliable big audiences.

The NFL's new rights arrangements start in 2023 and last through 2033:

  • Amazon's deal with the NFL is the league's first all-digital partnership, making Amazon Prime Video the exclusive home of Thursday Night Football. Note that local, over-the-air broadcast networks will air Amazon's Thursday Night Football games in the cities of the participating teams. (In other words, if you want to watch your local team play on a Thursday night and you're not an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscriber, you'll still be able to watch either with a digital antenna or a regular pay-TV service like cable.) 
  • CBS will continue to air the American Football Conference's Sunday afternoon games, which will be broadcast on its namesake network and streamed live on its streaming service, Paramount Plus. 
  • Disney's ESPN will hold onto the rights for Monday Night Football, while the company's ABC broadcast network is taking on two Super Bowl broadcasts for the first time in years as well as some exclusive regular season games. This new deal with Disney gives ESPN Plus, the company's sports-focused streaming service, the right to simulcast all ABC and ESPN games. The deal with ESPN also includes a "bridge year" in 2022. (ESPN's Monday Night Football games will also be available on local broadcast stations in the participating teams' cities.)
  • Fox renewed its rights to the National Football Conference's Sunday afternoon games and expanded digital rights, which allow its free, ad-supported streaming service Tubi to deliver NFL programming. 
  • Comcast's NBC will continue to produce Sunday Night Football, and its streaming service Peacock will simulcast all Sunday Night Football games plus have an exclusive feed of a select number of NFL games over the decade-long term of the deal. NBC first acquired its package of prime-time games in 2006. 
  • The deals also divvy up the rights to a decade's worth of Super Bowls. CBS will have the big game in 2023, 2027 and 2031; Fox gets it in 2024, 2028 and 2032; NBC has the rights in 2025, 2029 and 2033; and ESPN and ABC get 2026 and 2030. 

Though people can subscribe to Amazon Prime Video directly, most of its viewing is believed to stem from members of Amazon's Prime program, which is best known for accelerated shipping of Amazon purchases. Prime Video is a bonus perk of a Prime membership, but even though Prime has more than 150 million members in the US, it's unclear how many of those actually watch Prime Video. By comparison, Netflix has more than 200 million members worldwide. 

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