Amazon’s bid for Disney’s RSNs an evolutionary step for sports streaming

Amazon’s experience in broadcasting live sports apparently has whet its appetite for more. The e-commerce giant – according to a CNBC report – is in the running for Disney’s 22 regional sports networks that the Mouse Network has to offload as part of its deal in acquiring 21st Century Fox.

Amazon isn’t the only interested party, of course, as Sinclair Broadcast Group, KKR, The Blackstone Group, Tegna, and Apollo Global Management all have expressed interest, placing their bids in what likely is just early positioning. Fox, which had early on been seen as having the inside track to reacquiring the sportsnets at a discount so far has remained on the sidelines.

Also rumored to be part of Amazon’s bid was YES Network, which carries New York Yankee and Brooklyn Nets games. YES has been seen as one of the sports networks that could be sold on its own.

Amazon has seen success with its efforts to live stream the NFL and Premier League soccer, among other high-profile sports events; a deal for the regional sports networks would quickly put it into the sports streaming business in a big way, and give it an alternative to battling its chief streaming foe, Netflix, head to head with premium VOD alone.

The question? Is streaming sports, specifically RSNs, a business worth going into?

In a word: Yes.

It’s still early days for sports streamers. Consumers are just getting their heads around the idea that there are alternatives to traditional delivery, but that awareness is picking up speed.

The NFL is a prime example of just that. Amazon’s Thursday Night Football viewership is up nearly 15 million viewers through its first seven weeks, about 22% higher than in 2017. The biggest audiences were the 2.4 million fans who watched the Patriots-Colts game on Oct. 4 and the 2.4 million who tuned in the following week for the Eagles-Giants. Those games – and three others so far – have topped 2017’s best game viewership: 2 million for the Saints-Falcons on Dec. 7.

More impressive is the average minute audience (AMA) topping 455,000 – up 36% from the same period a year ago and 47% from all TNF games in 2017 – with four of the seven games topping 525,000.

Those numbers stand up especially well when compared to the 7% decline in TNF viewership for those seven games in the U.S. market.

The National Football League said Mexico and Canada have shown the most interest among international markets.

The bottom line? Sports are going to be a major catalyst for live streaming in general, and streaming is a much-needed tonic for sports leagues that have seen a decline in ratings and ad revenues. Streaming live games helps leagues gain access to younger audiences that have cut the cord, or never been attached to the cord in the first place, and it helps mitigate the ongoing decline in viewership brought about by cord cutting.

Plus, connecting with viewers over the Internet gives providers access to much deeper audience data than does delivery via traditional methods like cable or broadcast, data that provides companies like Amazon the insights it needs to reach consumers with messages they want to hear.

Stay tuned.

Jim O’Neill is Editor of Videomind and Principal Analyst at Brightcove. You can follow him on Twitter @JimONeillMedia and on LinkedIn