A TV with an ad for Thursday Night Football on it
Image: Amazon

Amazon is having a Super Bowl moment

Protocol Entertainment

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Entertainment, your guide to the business of the gaming and media industries. This Thursday we’re taking a closer look at Amazon’s Thursday Night Football rollout. Plus: HaptX raises new funding, fan conventions are coming to the metaverse and avatars are getting legs, if only for other users.

Amazon’s Super Bowl is here

This is a big day for Amazon: Thursday Night Football officially kicks off tonight on Amazon Prime Video with the Los Angeles Chargers facing off against the Kansas City Chiefs. The company is paying $1 billion a year for the 11-year deal with the NFL, and it’s looking to make it back with ad revenue, shopping tie-ins and some promotion of Prime itself.

This week, I caught up with Amazon Prime VP Jamil Ghani to hear more about how this all fits together and how Amazon wants to use TNF to grow Prime even more.

Amazon is having a bit of a moment right now. In addition to Thursday Night Football, Prime Video also began airing “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” this month.

  • “The Rings of Power” is reportedly the most expensive TV show ever made, costing the company a whopping $715 million.
  • The investment seems to be paying off, at least when it comes to attention: In a rare departure from its tradition of sharing extremely unspecific data points, the company recently revealed that the first episode of “The Rings of Power” had been viewed by 25 million people worldwide.
  • And Amazon is by no means done for the year, with the peak shopping season being just around the corner.
  • “This is a bit like the Super Bowl for Amazon,” punned Ghani during our conversation when talking about the trifecta of TNF, “Rings of Power” and holiday shopping.

Not too long ago, shopping would have been all Amazon talked about. The company launched its Prime membership program in 2005 and didn’t introduce Prime Video as an add-on benefit until 2011.

  • In those early days, Prime Video was a bit of a baffling proposition, dominated by B-movies and catalog content, and very few titles people actually wanted to watch.
  • Here’s how Netflix CEO Reed Hastings put it in 2012: “It's really about low-cost shipping, but why is video in there? It's kind of a confusing mess.”
  • One assumption early on was that Amazon was going to aggressively use Prime to promote its own stores and perhaps even make TV shoppable.
  • That largely hasn’t happened. With TNF, Amazon is offering some shopping tie-ins, including a dedicated fan store to sell NFL-branded merchandise as well as Amazon devices. But in the end, it’s still foremost about football and not QVC.
  • “The top priority is respect for the content,” Ghani told me. “We want people who want to watch football [to have] the best football-watching experience. We want people who want to immerse themselves in ‘Rings of Power’ to [have] the best experience [they] possibly can.”

Ultimately, it’s all about Prime itself. Sure, Amazon would love for you to order your team’s jersey on Amazon.com. But what matters more than just a few extra bucks from those orders is Prime itself.

  • Amazon’s membership program has more than 200 million paying members worldwide, and the company keeps adding new components to Prime, ranging from video to music to gaming.
  • “Members historically came to prime for shipping,” Ghani said. “That’s no longer true. We have many, many members that know Prime in the U.S. and elsewhere as a video service or a music service.”
  • The challenge now is for the company to tell a coherent story about Prime and actually let people know about all of those other benefits — which is where things like Prime Day, or TNF for that matter, come in.
  • “Moments like Prime Day are candidly a great opportunity for us to celebrate all things Prime,” Ghani said. And just like Amazon is using Prime Day to sell people its devices, which then unlock additional services, you can expect the company to put the spotlight on things other than free shipping during TNF games as well.
  • And of course, the company also wants to use the games to sign up new members. “We expect, with Thursday Night Football, that there will be folks that will consider signing up for a Prime membership, or getting a free trial, for the first time,” Ghani said.
  • Increasingly, Prime is also a way for Amazon to make money with things other than shipping. One example: Once you use Prime Video on a Fire TV device, chances are you’ll use the same device to sign up for other video subscription services through Amazon’s channel store.
  • “Prime is the entry point for most Amazon customers to the digital services and subscriptions that Amazon offers,” Ghani said.

A billion dollars per year may seem like a lot of money, even for something as high-profile as Thursday Night Football. But if it gets more people to sign up for Prime, and perhaps gets those who are signed up to use it even more, Amazon’s Super Bowl-sized bet may end up paying for itself.

— Janko Roettgers

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Up next

HaptX raises another $23 million for VR haptics. The Redmond-based startup has built a VR haptics glove that brings tactile feedback to VR, robotics and beyond. Right now, the HaptX glove still requires a lot of equipment to power the pneumatics necessary to provide up to 40 pounds of force feedback, which has put HaptX firmly into the enterprise and industrial tech realm. However, the company wants to use the new cash infusion to develop successors to its current-gen glove — and eventually, the technology may be compact and cheap enough to find its way into consumer-ready VR gloves.

Fan conventions are coming to VR. Los Angeles-based comic book store Golden Apple is organizing the first fan convention in virtual reality: FanconXR, which is scheduled for Sept. 24, will be held entirely in Microsoft’s social VR platform Altspace. Think of it like Comic-Con but in the metaverse, if you will. And a lot smaller, presumably. Still, there are some notable speakers, including George C. Romero and Blake Northcott. The whole thing is being technically supported by Big Rock Creative, which is better known for putting on the virtual Burning Man experience in Altspace.

— Janko Roettgers

In other news

Get ready for inflation gadgets. As prices for consumer goods continue to rise, gadget makers are increasingly betting on entry-level gizmos.

Netflix wants to have 40 million ad-supported viewers in 2023. The company wants to sign up 4.4 million ad-supported viewers by the end of this year and reach 40 million by Q3 of 2023. Worth noting that Netflix’s definition of “unique viewers” likely isn’t the same as its subscriber count.

Applovin has given up on its Unity deal. The company is retracting its offer to buy Unity after the engine maker made it clear that it wants to pursue its deal with IronSource.

Tubi launches a World Cup FAST channel. The free, linear streaming channel is part of Fox’s efforts to attract soccer-loving cord cutters to Tubi.

Ubisoft’s CEO says he’s not opposed to a union. Yves Guillemot told Axios that it’s up to his employees whether they want to unionize or not.

Soccer fans embrace piracy after legal streaming fails. Tens of thousands of fans resorted to pirated streams after a recent Canal+ Champions League stream was plagued by outages.

Nintendo has no plans to switch to a new console. Excuse the pun, but a bunch of announcements made by Nintendo this week show that the company wants to support the Switch for some time to come.

Paramount may kill its Showtime streaming service. The company is reportedly considering bringing Showtime’s catalog to the Paramount+ app.

This thing’s got legs

Good news for Meta Quest users: Your avatars will soon have legs! At least that’s what Meta CTO Andrew Bosworth suggested during a recent AMA. “Yeah we’ve been made fun of a lot for the legless avatars, and I think that’s very fair, and I think it’s pretty funny,” Bosworth told viewers of the crowdsourced interview, which was streamed on Instagram, according to UploadVR. “[W]e are working on legs,” he promised.

However, there’s a caveat: You won’t be able to see those legs. Instead, they’ll only be visible to others. “Having legs on your own avatar that don’t match your real legs is very disconcerting to people,” Bosworth explained. That’s why the company is working on avatar legs that look normal to bystanders. “But probably when you look at your own legs, [you] will continue to see nothing.”

Maybe it’s a — wait for it — step in the right direction.

— Janko Roettgers

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