Amazon is set to break Sky’s and BT’s stranglehold on Premier League football when it begins live-streaming 20 top-flight English football games a season starting next week.
The games will be streamed through Amazon’s Prime Video service, on a schedule running from Tuesday 3 December until 27 December, marking the first time in almost three decades that football fans will be able to watch Premier League games for free.
Amazon is using the matches to drive subscriptions to its £79-a-year Amazon Prime service, which offers perks including free delivery of goods and music streaming as well as its TV service. But with a 30-day free trial on offer to non-members, many fans will be able to catch top-flight matches such as Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur without paying a penny. Premier League football fans have not been able to watch games free-to-air since Rupert Murdoch took them on to Sky’s pay-TV service in 1992.
The company has pulled out all the stops to ensure top class coverage – and avoid a repeat of the technical issues that marred its first UK exclusive live sport broadcast of the US Open last year – bringing in big names from Alan Shearer and Gaby Logan to Harry Redknapp and Thierry Henry. Amazon has drafted in 43 hosts, pundits and commentators in total, as it simulcasts five matches on 4 December and six matches on Boxing Day.
The company is backing the live streaming with a media blitz of the scale usually reserved for its crown jewel entertainment shows, such as The Grand Tour or Good Omens. The campaign, which uses the strapline “Amazon delivers the Premier League”, includes TV ads across ITV, Sky, BT Sport, Channel 4 and Channel 5 as well as on buses and trains nationally and in tube stations.
Amazon is aiming to boost the billions in revenues it makes in the UK annually (£10.9bn last year), and the package of games works perfectly to drive its retail strategy. Prime members shop and spend significantly more than non-members.
The run-up to Black Friday and ensuing festive buying season marks the busiest time of the year for sign-ups to Amazon Prime. And the company has learned that hot content super-charges new subscriber numbers. When The Grand Tour launched three years ago it drove one of Amazon’s biggest days of new sign ups.
Amazon is releasing a string of new content including the returning hit series Jack Ryan, The Marvellous Mrs Maisel and The Grand Tour, as well as the Andy Murray documentary Resurfacing. It hopes those tuning in for the football will see the value in paying after the trial period expires.
The big question is whether Amazon’s foray into streaming Premier League matches will be a short-lived experiment, or whether it marks the beginning of a full assault on the lion’s share of the best matches.
“It really depends how the streaming goes,” says Sarah Simon, senior media analyst at Berenberg. “If it is a technical and commercial success Amazon might be emboldened to come back for more.”
The sheer cost of successfully challenging Sky has meant there have been very few serious challenges over the last 27 years. But then Amazon, with a market value of $900bn and headed by the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, is no ordinary rival.
Still, beating Sky and BT would cost more than the combined £4.5bn ($5.8bn) they paid last time, meaning Bezos would have to be prepared to almost double Amazon’s entire global annual programming budget of $7bn to ensure that a Premier League strategy hit the back of the net. Amazon paid an undisclosed sum for its streaming package.
“If Amazon decided to come back big at the next auction Sky would defend its position aggressively because they are the rights they absolutely have to keep,” said Simon. “But Amazon, well, it kind of has infinitely deep pockets if it wants.”