In perhaps the least surprising news to emanate from the sea change of musical football broadcasters, news broke yesterday that Al Michaels will indeed join Amazon Prime Video as the lead voice of its new Thursday Night Football package, completing a relocation triumvirate that will see Amazon combine a package from FOX with an anchor from NBC and an analyst from ESPN (Kirk Herbstreit).
For a brief period, there was speculation that after losing Troy Aikman to ESPN and then allowing his boothmate Joe Buck to join him, FOX might make a run at Michaels, much the way they reached out to an established broadcast competitor, Pat Summerall, when they launched their NFL package. With two of the next four Super Bowls in their camp, there was certainly an argument to be made for Michaels to have value to both FOX and the sport. Instead, he will become the first lead broadcaster for a regularly scheduled exclusive national live sporting event in SVOD history.
Much like Summerall and his boothmate John Madden were to FOX in 1994, Michaels and award-winning TNF producer Fred Gaudelli will ensure familiar voices and narratives in a new location that, for many fans, may be their first experience with a new viewing destination. And with this stroke it is evident that Amazon is determined to be a player for the NFL long-term, particularly critical at a time when Apple is making investments in major league baseball broadcasts and certainly has the financial resources to challenge Amazon for the next crown jewel available, NFL Sunday Ticket.
Sunday Ticket effectively created demand for DIRECTV when it launched, and eventually changed the way football was consumed by TV viewers. The eventual creation of the Red Zone Channel, which features anchors navigating moves to different simultaneously airing games whenever a team would get within 20 yards of a touchdown, essentially took the remote out of fans’ hands and created the ultimate Short Attention Span Theatre. Content as robust as this was impossible with traditional TV and, ironically, when the Red Zone Channel was finally made available to cable companies it was more coveted than the games themselves.
So, while the eventual destination of Sunday Ticket is still TBD, it is increasingly likely that it won’t be DirecTV, at least the in-home satellite dish version. (With bars and entertainment meccas like Dave and Buster’s still challenged by OTT TV options, and with the ability of even Nielsen to provide data on out-of-home viewing, it is all but ensured that DirecTV will maintain some presence as the distribution platform for those venues). And when that happens, I’m all but guaranteed to drop them.
For one thing, what was once state-of-the-art technology regarding picture quality and recording capacity has now been eclipsed by smart TVs and cloud storage. For another, it’s expensive–my current package is nearly $200 a month. And frankly I watch a lot less traditional TV in general these days. Most major channels will be available through smaller packages such as You Tube TV or the packages offered by Hulu or Amazon. When Sunday Ticket migrates, every major sports package will have the ability to be seen non-linearly. Even with those subscriptions, my monthly nut will be likely to drop significantly. I don’t necessarily need twenty shopping channels at my disposal.
Michaels will be 78 in November, and yet he’s starting anew. I’m still a few years short of him. I certainly can do the same. Nice knowing ya, DirecTV.