Thursday Night Football is back on Prime Video, and Boardroom got a peak behind the curtain to see the new tech that Amazon has in store.
Amazon‘s second season as the NFL‘s home for Thursday Night Football kicks off this week as the Philadelphia Eagles host the Minnesota Vikings. Prime Video is looking to build on a debut season that saw an average of 9.58 million viewers per game, according to Nielsen. It’s the league’s first-ever streaming-only package.
Putting together an entirely new setup with on-air talent, production, graphics, and exceptionally low latency helped earn TNF the 2022 Sports Emmy award for Best Interactive Experience. Yet Amazon isn’t resting on its laurels; it put together a number of new innovations for season two. Late last month, Boardroom got a sneak peak and spoke with key executives about changes fans will notice on Prime Video this season.
“It’s about options and giving our fans choices in the way they want to watch and enjoy Thursday Night Football,” Betsy Riley, Prime Video’s senior coordinating producer, told Boardroom.
Prime Vision with Next Gen Stats Returns to Thursday Night Football
After some experimentation in year one, Prime Vision with Next Gen Stats will be back for all 16 Amazon regular season games this season. A select number of fans each week were polled in a focus group of sorts to discuss which features they liked and disliked, and AI-driven insights seen from the All-22 camera angle were consistently popular and serve as Prime Vision’s current backbone. Adding player tags from that vantage point made the experience even more user friendly.
Last year, a feature called Open Receiver used AI technology to put a green orb over a player, highlighting when that pass catcher was open, testing 96 different rule sets and working with partners to bring a new stat into existence. Prime Targets tracks players through RFID chips in the players’ shoulder pads, showing when they are more likely than not going to convert a first down if they were thrown the ball at that given moment.
With the help of Sam Schwartzstein, Prime Video’s TNF analytics expert and Andrew Luck’s former center at Stanford, there’s now a trackable stat where you can determine which players get open most often, what coaches are calling plays to get receivers open the most, and which quarterbacks are taking best advantage of these prime targets.
“Now we can really tell a deeper story about the process of the play and not just the result,” Schwartzstein told Boardroom. “That’s where analytics has the biggest impact. And we’re going to help show instead of tell on how coaches make decisions during a game.”
Schwartzstein said that his team started the season with 20 ideas for Prime Video’s machine learning team, but Riley told him to think bigger.
“You don’t need to be practical,” he recalled her saying. “We can do more here. But this was a pie-in-the-sky idea. I really didn’t think it was happening.”
One of those ideas is seeing the game from the vantage point of how QBs and offensive lines watch defenses. Three months later, the team came up with a neural network machine-learning-powered model that will predict the likelihood a player will blitz on a certain play. That’s based on the X-Y coordinate data of every player on the field, their relationship to each other, and their acceleration. A highlighted orb will go under players of interest based on pre-snap movement.
The model was annotated and updated by a panel of former coaches and players who provide feedback to make it smarter.
4th Down Decision Guide
During important third down situations, there will be an overlay on the field on how many yards an offense needs to gain for a strong recommendation to go for it on 4th down.
“A lot of times TV is just saying ‘analytics said this was a good decision’ and it’s happening on fourth down or after fourth down. But that’s not how teams approach it,” Schwartzstein said. “They have analytics coordinators on the headset with the head coach and on third down they’re saying ‘if you get to this spot, you should go for it.’ We can give the background and make sure fans are excited about what they’re going to see and not just question analytics.”
Fans using Prime Vision will now get the same data the coaches are seeing during these pivotal moments. And the decision guide is also tailored to specific teams’ tendencies and conversion rates. For example if the Eagles convert fourth downs at a higher rate, the model takes that into account.
Field Goal Target Zones
The line that typical game broadcasts use for a field goal target is often just a kicker’s career long. Next Gen Stats factors in weather and altitude and puts down multiple lines indicating a 25, 50, and 75% chance of a successful kick from certain spots on the field.
“Prime Vision in general provides the opportunity to have almost a lab, an incubator to ideas,” Riley said. “If something’s working, let’s make it better still. If something’s not working, let’s either fix it or find a way to do something better and different.”
It’s also no coincidence that a lot of these Prime Vision features mimic video games’ graphics and vantage points. When Prime Video surveyed fans on new innovations they wanted, Schwartzstein said they looked especially for gamers.
“We looked for people who heavily played video games because they are seeing some of the innovations that come forward and it’s driving a little bit of what the possible is,” he said. “Scientists will often draw from science fiction to try and think about what should come next.”
Other Notes & Features
- In addition to the Rapid Recap, which briefs fans on up to two minutes of key highlights before jumping ahead to the live game, a new Key Plays feature uses AI to build a bank of moments in each game for fans to watch on-demand, in-game highlights.
- After streaming games in Standard Dynamic Range last season, Amazon upgraded to High Dynamic Range with greater light/dark contrast and more vivid color.
- Amazon will broadcast the NFL’s first-ever Black Friday game on Nov. 24 between the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets in front of the Prime Video paywall. While there were whispers of Amazon incorporating e-commerce elements into the game broadcast or the viewing experience to help capitalize on the busiest shopping day of the year, Riley said those plans are still in development. “We really think there’s an opportunity for this to become the next American sports holiday,” she said, “and at the center of that will be our high standard of an exceptional football broadcast. Anything we do will not be at the detriment of that. We’re going to embrace the lifestyle shopping aspects of the day in ways that makes sense.”
- Amazon is promising streaming technology that ensures low latency — 10 seconds or fewer from the stadium to your screen. The company said that’s as fast or even faster than cable or broadcast TV.
- For now, Amazon is staying away from sports betting features in Prime Video and Prime Vision. “We stay very close to the NFL to best understand their stance on sports betting,” Riley said. “Right now, that remains the NFL’s position.”
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