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Amazon wants to be the exclusive provider of all Thursday NFL games starting in 2023

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Key Points
  • Amazon is open to producing all Thursday night NFL games for its Prime Video streaming platform.
  • Any such deal would kick off no sooner than 2023 and might also include the NFL Network.
  • Amazon would be responsible for teaming up with a local broadcaster to televise the game in both teams' local markets.

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Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon
Katherine Taylor | Reuters

Amazon wants to be the National Football League's exclusive producer of Thursday games starting in 2023, but the NFL may decide to keep certain games on the NFL Network and take less money from Amazon, according to people familiar with the matter.

Amazon is in talks with the league to pay about $1 billion for an entire season's worth of exclusive games, outside of the local TV markets of the two teams playing, said the people, who asked not to be named because the talks are private. The talks are ongoing and no decision has been made, said the people.

In a new agreement, Amazon would be responsible for all the production costs and would still need to pay a local broadcaster to produce the game for home markets, as the NFL wants the Thursday night games to be broadcast on local TV in each of the participating teams' home markets.

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The NFL Network, which is usually packaged as part of expensive pay-TV bundles, has requirements with pay-TV distributors to carry a certain number of games exclusively. The Wall Street Journal, which previously reported Amazon's interest, reported Wednesday that the NFL Network's deals require it to broadcast five games exclusively. With the NFL set to add an 18th week, the league could conceivably give the NFL Network enough Saturday games and other carveouts to hit the cable network's limits without dipping into Thursday, one of the people said.

Still, the NFL may decide propping up NFL Network's value is a higher priority than giving Amazon a full slate of Thursday games. The league is still considering proposals to simulcast Amazon's Thursday games on the NFL Network or to split Thursday's games between Amazon and the NFL Network, said two of the people.

Amazon won't pay anywhere near $1 billion for a full package of games that aren't entirely exclusive, said the people. Amazon is open to an arrangement where it gets branded games that are simulcast on NFL Network for less money, the people said. It's also open to a package where it gets fewer exclusive games for less money.

"This is a pretty watershed event for the TV industry," LightShed analyst Rich Greenfield said on CNBC today. "The fact that now you can get Thursday night games without having any local television — no antenna will work if you're outside of the home markets."

The deal would build on Amazon's three-year deal with the NFL to broadcast 12 Thursday games in the 2020, 2021 and 2022 seasons on its Prime Video streaming service. That deal allows Amazon to broadcast one game exclusively each season. This past year, it was a Week 16 game between the Arizona Cardinals and the San Francisco 49ers. Fox's Thursday night football deal runs out in 2022 and won't be bought out early, according to people familiar with the matter.

The NFL has been cautious about handing over broadcast rights to streaming services. The league is close to securing agreements with its current TV partners — Disney, which owns ESPN and ABC; ViacomCBS; Comcast's NBCUniversal, and Fox — for Sunday and Monday night packages.

Still, streaming is becoming the dominant form of viewing for millions of Americans and can have global reach, unlike traditional pay TV. Several pay-TV distributors have inked deals with Amazon Prime Video to make its programming available on set-top boxes, further limiting friction for the tens of millions of Americans who still pay for linear pay-TV bundles from operators such as Comcast and AT&T.

Disclosure: Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which is the parent company of CNBC.