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Prime Video’s first solo Thursday Night Football NFL game went … fine

So Amazon Prime Video streamed its first actually exclusive Thursday Night Football game. (That’s the name of the show because all shows must be named, in addition to actually being the night on which said football was played. It’d be awkward if TNF was played on Friday, but as we saw in 2020, stranger things have happened.) And because all things must be critiqued in 2022, we’re happy to report that it went … OK.

To be clear, Prime Video is no stranger to streaming football games. It’s done so for a number of seasons now on Thursday nights. But those games also have been available elsewhere, either on broadcast channels or on the NFL Network.

But this time, Prime Video was flying solo.

Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime Video.
Phil Nickinson/Digital Trends

The new booth pairing of Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit was fine. They’re both professionals and entertaining in their own right, and they’re a good pair — albeit a completely safe pair. Not saying that Amazon needs to go completely bonkers like when Monday Night Football tried Dennis Miller, but if there ever was an industry in need of more diversity, it’s TV sports announcers.

Once folks were actually able to figure out how to watch the game — I had to point my own children to the Prime Video app after they were hunting around on YouTube TV — the first oddity appeared. Prime Video had captions turned on by default. That was obvious by what we all saw on the screen, as well as the number of folks finding our post on how to turn off captions on Prime Video. For those of us in the publishing business, it gave a brief chuckle.

Then there was the quality of the stream itself. It was fine — except for when it wasn’t. Prime Video is no stranger to high-profile streaming, but live sports is a completely different animal than The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel or The Boys. There’s less opportunity for redundancy. And it looks like the stream suffered on a number of occasions during the game, shifting to a much lower resolution than you’d expect from such an event. (If it’s not 1080p at 60 frames per second, it’s worthless for live sports.) Restarting the stream seemed to help, but only for a while.

We can’t excuse a low-resolution stream on a live sporting event.

I’ve seen other recaps all but excuse this, and they’re wrong to do so. If what you’re showing is unwatchable, then nothing else matters. This is especially true for live sports, which simply can’t be watched later. It’s a sporting event happening in real time, not the series finale of Game of Thrones. (Which had its own watchability problems, but I digress.) It’s like publishing a book where every third page is all but faded. It’s like a new Taylor Swift record being drowned out by static.

I turned off the game after the resolution downshifted for the third time. Too bad, given how it ended. But my time is more valuable than what that crappy stream was giving me. Prime Video must do better. (And I have no doubt that it will.)

There was no mistaking that this was an Amazon-owned stream, too. From the on-screen logos to the onslaught of advertising, Thursday Night Football might as well be Prime Night Football. I don’t have a problem with that, actually, since NFL broadcasts are advertising events with a little bit of football mixed in. I’m used to that. I’m numb to it. It’s a big part of why I’m a proper football guy.

And Prime Video’s X-Ray tool remains an interesting addition. I tend to think that stats are overused (misused, really) in professional sports — and they’ve become another means of advertising, as evidenced by the AWS Super Sports Tracker 5000, which shows how many breaths someone takes per yard per carry per quarter per game, as if that’s indicative of anything. Still, it’s something else no one does, and options are cool.

All in all, not a bad first (but not really first) go for Amazon. It’ll get better as the season progresses, for sure. The NFL — and its fans — will demand it. At least the Steelers fans will next Thursday. Browns fans are used to mediocrity.

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