Connected TV

Are Traditional Sports Leagues the New Original Content?

Streaming channels are adjusting their content strategies to secure their futures

Are Traditional Sports Leagues the New Original Content?

5 Min Read

One of the exciting developments that came along with the streaming revolution was the wealth of original content. Streaming-first channels introduced us to high-quality new favorites from Stranger Things on Netflix to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon’s Prime Video. The hope was that these exclusive content offerings would draw subscribers in a crowded and continually evolving pool of streaming channels.

These channels spend billions of dollars on these original shows, with varying degrees of success. So it was perhaps a surprise (or not at all) to see the recent report that the most successful exclusive content on Amazon was none other than the NFL’s Thursday Night Football. If sports were the main attraction on linear TV, is everything old new again?

Amazon Finds Out the Hard Way That Expensive Doesn’t Always Equal Profitable

When it comes to original content, Netflix is likely the first channel that comes to mind as it has built its name on its original library, including shows such as The Crown, House of Cards, and The Queen’s Gambit. Amazon, on the other hand, does not appear to have a clear strategy when it comes to original content. They have certainly had their share of hits, but due to inconsistent releases and a UI that offers a mishmash of free and paid content, they have failed to cement original programming as a brand identity for themselves.

One of Amazon’s latest originals, The Rings of Power, a series prequel of the Lord of the Rings franchise, has been billed as the most expensive series ever made. Despite the price tag and the attachment to one of the most beloved stories of all time, the show performed with mixed results. Only 37% of those that started the series finished it, which was below Amazon’s rumored benchmark for success of 50%.

The Head of Amazon and MGM Studios, Jen Salke, isn’t deterred, however. “You don’t reverse-engineer true creative vision,” she told the Hollywood Reporter. Despite the lower-than-anticipated numbers, Amazon is already working on the next season, reasoning that the first season was busy setting up the story for the second. However, The Rings of Power continues to highlight the gamble these streaming channels are taking on original content. With a high price tag and an uncertain return, where does an originals strategy tip from useful to unnecessarily risky?

Thursday Night Football Provided a Monumental Influx of Amazon’s New Subscribers

In direct contrast to The Rings of Power is the NFL’s Thursday Night Football. In 2021, the NFL announced that Thursdays’ games would now be available exclusively on Prime Video, marking the first time that a streaming service would be carrying a full package of games. This didn’t come cheap for Amazon; reports place the acquisition at a billion dollars a season. However, the impact was seen immediately.

Jay Marine, Amazon’s Sports Chief, reported to Amazon staff in September that the launch game of the 2022 TNF season resulted in “the biggest three hours for U.S. Prime sign-ups ever in the history of Amazon.” A former Amazon insider highlighted the significance of this, “Then you add sports and in 24 hours make more progress than in eight years of TV. The whole sports launch changed the prism of how they look at the ecosystem and what role film and TV and music plays into it.”

Sports is obviously nothing new in terms of content, but it’s got a vast appeal and a loyal audience. Amazon’s success in returning to tried-and-true programming versus their venture into original content begs the question of what content works best to attract and keep subscribers. It seems there is still something to be learned from the days of linear viewership.

Warner Bros. Discovery Is Making Content Cuts That Show the Tough Decisions Streaming Channels Must Make

Amazon’s not the only channel having a reckoning when it comes to original content. This week, the Warner Brothers/ Discovery deal has been completed and the rebrand to “Max” was made official. While there is a wealth of legacy content between the two companies, this deal has been a death sentence for upcoming originals.

Following the merger announcement last year, the newly formed Warner Bros. Discovery revealed that many titles, both already aired and yet to premiere, had gotten the ax. DC’s Batgirl was canceled, despite being essentially finished. Westworld, a popular original series, has been pulled from the service completely. The decisions ultimately come down to saving money; either cutting shows that can be deemed a tax write-off or removing those whose residuals exceed the profits earned.

Lawmakers are calling on the Department of Justice to reexamine the merger of the two entertainment companies. MediaPost reports, “The damage to content creators whose projects are canceled in deep development and post-production cannot be overstated,” said the letter [to the DOJ]. “Such cancellations stain these projects, making them less appealing and marketable to other buyers — consumers will likely never be able to watch shows purchased then canceled by WBD.”

Warner Bros. Discovery highlights the tough decisions streaming channels are having to make to both obtain subscribers and also remain profitable. How will the streaming industry balance creativity and profit? Will they continue to return to reliable formats like sports at the expense of unique and original content that may potentially underperform key benchmarks? Or will they find a way to make strategic bets on the original content that streaming has been founded on? Only time will tell what combination of new originals and old standbys balances the scale of profit for these companies.

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