Grading the Thursday Night Football Broadcasts on Fox, Amazon Prime and Twitch

Fans could watch several Thursday Night Football broadcasts on a handful of different platforms—from Fox, to Amazon Prime, to Twitch—but how did each pan out? 
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While the Rams and Vikings traded points during the 38-31 Los Angeles victory, I was flipping streams Thursday night. Back in the day, Thursday Night Football was the hardest-to-find NFL telecast, isolated on NFL Network. But with FOX beginning its five-year ownership of the series, fans could watch on that channel, on NFL Network, on the NFL and Yahoo Sports apps, on Amazon’s Prime Video service or on Twitch—and each of those last two options came with different versions, too. Here’s how I thought it all played out.

Hannah Storm and Andrea Kremer’s Historic, Flawed Debut

“We've covered the league for a long time, but never quite like this,” Hannah Storm said at the top of Thursday’s broadcast, the first NFL game called by an all-female duo. “And Andrea, there is no turning back now.”

The most visible complaints online about Storm and Kremer’s debut revolved around struggles to find their offering. Amazon added a link to a how-to guide on its TNF page, but its decision to include Storm-Kremer only as an audio option with the other languages still drew criticism. Without building a custom switcher, I’m not sure what else the company can do, but I would expect even clearer promos and signage around the player next week.

As for the actual production, it was solid, assuming you knew what to expect. There’s a reason Amazon is not offering Storm-Kremer as the default viewing experience. As long as they are calling the game from a Connecticut facility and are tied to the visual feed provided by FOX, it will never feel like a true first-class offering. The most awkward moments came when one of FOX’s sideline reporters showed up on screen, interrupting Storm and Kremer’s discussion, and then sending it back to “Joe.” Hopefully Amazon and the NFL have the power to tell Erin Andrews and Kristina Pink to be a little more vague in their throws back to the booth. That said, Storm seemed unfazed handling the unpredictable elements.

Meanwhile, Kremer’s expertise jumped off the screen from the start. During the Vikings’ opening drive, she referenced a handful of conversations with players and coaches and was perfectly comfortable delving into Minnesota center Pat Elflein’s role on the team as he returns from injury. As soon as punter Johnny Hekker dropped back on a fake, Kremer couldn’t help but immediately tell fans that he was a quarterback in high school.

That play was one of the duo’s better moments of the night, as Storm also let her surprise guide her call. The broadcast slowed down when she went into play-by-play mode, and it was fascinating to realize midway through the game that maybe you don’t actually need someone describing every bit of action. The goal is to present a more conversational option. At its best, Amazon’s new stream could feel like a Macy’s Day Parade broadcast, pointing out the big floats but not letting the proceedings get in the way of a good story. It’s more calm and more accessible (with Kremer explaining what “touches” are, for instance).

It will be fun to watch the duo settle in over the season. For now, my suggestion to viewers is that they already offer a third-quarter change-of-pace. Storm-Kremer is groundbreaking, and it’s different, even if it’s quite bumpy.

Football By Any Other Name

Once the action started in L.A., it was almost easy to forget that this was a Thursday night game. The late afternoon California sun amplified that feeling, as did the NFC powerhouse matchup, but the production played a big role too. There was no persistent TNF portion of the scorebug, like CBS used last year, and a plain FOX | NFL Network logo signaled the end of each replay rather than this year’s Thursday Night Football shield logo.

Several unique features, including additional sideline cameras and a ‘Timeless’ series that highlighted current players admiring past members of their respective franchises, provided the feel of a bigger event, yet none felt tied to Thursdays specifically. Joe Buck and Troy Aikman also made the game feel different, with a slightly showier presentation style and some laid-back moments, including a first-half discussion about how far away the bathrooms were from their booth.

It all makes me wonder if, depending on how this year goes, FOX and the NFL would consider rebranding Thursday night, given its controversial and rootless past. After all, I don’t think it’s in the league’s founding document that every primetime game has to be named after a day of the week, and FOX already calls its biggest Sunday events “America’s Game of the Week."

Five Thoughts on Everything Else

• I’m looking forward to hearing what NFL execs thought of Twitch’s co-stream, hosted by user GoldGlove. From a format perspective, I think having the streamer speak on-top of FOX’s audio works better than the Storm-Kremer method of totally replacing the mainstream booth sound. Viewers feel like they are missing out on less, and especially for the younger audience, the extra chaos amps up the sense of engagement. GoldGlove provided compelling, if amateur audio—“Air it out, Kirkie!” was his signature call of the night. It was particularly fun to hear him explain to the chat room members that he had permission to stream the game, whereas previous attempts at something like this would have quickly been taken down. That chat room also provided companionship during commercial breaks, with everyone riffing on the couple of ad spots that played over and over and over again. The full Twitch experience, with an interactive game, wasn’t available this week, so a full review will have to wait.

• While I’m discussing Twitch, Shannon Sharpe live-streamed there during the game last night. The most interesting tidbit? He watches football on mute, so as not to have his opinions diluted by the announcers. In fact, he watches every sport on mute. Except track and field, he explained. Not sure what to make of that.

• I’m also not sure what FOX is trying to accomplish with its pregame show. Thursday’s featured a black-and-white sketch mocking the NFL’s roughing the passer penalty, cameos by Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish, and a bit about Vince Wilfork not eating sushi. The broadcaster likes to play up its Hollywood roots, but the way I see it, those clips aren’t going to convince passersby to stick around for the game, and anyone excited enough about Vikings-Rams to tune in early probably wanted more football talk. I certainly did.

• I was unable to activate Prime Video’s new X-Ray features for Thursday Night Football, so will have to review those next week. However a spokesman said others were engaging smoothly with the offering, so it could very easily have been a technical mishap on my end.

• In closing, YG won the night.