Amazon is off to a roaring start in their second season of hosting Thursday Night Football, and while the traditional broadcast garners most of the attention, the hardcore fans are beginning to flock to Amazon's game-changing broadcast in Prime Vision with Next Gen Stats.
An alternate stream for Thursday Night Football, Prime Vision with Next Gen Stats provides viewers with a closer, more in-depth look at what's happening during the game. Thanks to the help of the NFL's Next Gen Stats powered by Amazon Web Services, the broadcast is able to provide real-time data, player tracking, and several AI-powered features, along with an All-22 high-definition camera angle, to enhance the broadcast and give viewers a deeper look into what happens on any given play.
As Amazon received the rights to Thursday Night Football, the company wanted to find ways to differentiate themselves from the other traditional football broadcasts, looking for ways to make fans smarter and more engaged with alternate streaming options. Prime Vision became the focus of the company, and they got off to a strong start with a thrilling game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs to kick off their debut 2022 season.
For those who regularly watch the alternate broadcast, Sam Schwartzstein has become the face of Prime Vision with Next Gen Stats, serving as the TNF Analytics Expert. A former center at Stanford, Schwartzstein has become one of the faces of the analytics movement into mainstream football media. His past experiences include a role as a Director of Football Operations for the 2020 iteration of the XFL, where he played a key part in creating rules and concepts to make the football league a more engaging and entertaining experience.
With the help of the rest of the Amazon team, Schwartzstein and the company have worked hard on refining and improving upon Prime Vision with Next Gen Stats, and the results are standing out in a big way in 2023. Along with removing the "L" bar to clear up space on the screen in 2023, the team has worked on ramping up the production quality while still using the main broadcast feed to provide persistent data without sacrificing space on the screen.
"What's great about [our broadcast] is that it takes what us in the football world see as dots on Twitter, and we turn it into video in real time," Schwartzstein shared.
While Schwartzstein isn't constantly popping up during the Prime Vision broadcast, the Amazon team works relentlessly to find the right times for him to bring up key information to add to the broadcast. According to him, that process isn't something that starts right as the ball is kicked off, but instead starts on the previous Thursday and Friday working with his producer, Scott Karpen, and the team over at Next Gen Stats to comb through the data and find the key talking points to bring into the following week. The Amazon production team also plays a factor in the process, working together to find the most interesting storylines and talking points to discuss during the broadcast.
"We really have this huge hive mind," Schwartzstein told FanBuzz. "And then during the game, we look at different types of different types of ways to describe [what's going on during the game]."
For the entire Prime Vision with Next Gen Stats team, almost everyone is being fed with endless streams of data points as the game is progressing. According to Schwartzstein, it's a collaborative effort to find those key trends that are going with or against their initial expectations, and then quickly compiling that data and presenting it to the audience in digestible sound bites.
There are several key features that Prime Vision with Next Gen Stats is providing fans in 2023, including Prime Targets, a Fourth Down Decision Guide, and Field Goal Target Zones.
However, the newest feature that has generated plenty of buzz around NFL circles, particularly on social media, has been the new Defensive Alert, which highlights players who are likely to be added to the pass rush.
— PrimeVideoSportsPR (@PrimeSportsPR) October 13, 2023
The concept started out as a simple idea on how to accurately "play the odds" and predict who could potentially be added to the pass rush. As a former college center, Schwartzstein mentioned that this is usually how he watches games as he tries to think about how the offensive line can slide or adjust to potential rushers based on the pre-snap looks that they're getting. Instead, Prime Vision got a feature that blew their early expectations out of the water.
"So we started out saying 'let's build a rules-based model'," Schwartzstein told FanBuzz. "On the machine learning side of it, they were like, 'kind of talk to us about what you want to do, and we'll use a machine-learning model to build it out.'"
After inputting countless plays into the machine-learning model, grading it out, and working with pass protection experts like former Stanford players and coaches in Andrew Luck, David DeCastro, David Shaw among others, Prime Vision was able to roll out Defensive Alert earlier this season. All of this input and grading to hone in the model has resulted in a feature that will even surprise Schwartzstein at times with how accurate it is.
"What's beautiful about is that there are some moments where I'm like 'why are we highlighting this guy?' and then I'm like 'oh, I see he actually does blitz. They ran a zone blitz.'" Schwartzstein said. "That's what's so cool about this feature is it's using things and helping expose things in different ways."
With features like Defensive Alerts, Prime Vision is providing a unique viewing experience for football fans, and Amazon firmly believes it's one of the key reasons for Thursday Night Football's success with Amazon Prime as the exclusive streaming service. According to Amazon prior to Week 7, ratings for Thursday Night Football are up 26 percent year over year, while the Week 6 matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos saw an increased viewership of 57 percent year over year. Those viewership numbers account for all of Amazon's streaming options, including Prime Vision, the main broadcast feed, and others like LeBron James appearing on "The Shop" feed.
With all 32 NFL teams investing heavily into analytics, broadcasts like Prime Vision with Next Gen Stats are starting to give fans more of an insight into what's going on inside of practice facilities across the league. As other broadcasts and media companies try to figure out how to incorporate analytics into their broadcasts (or even explain what analytics even are), Amazon is well ahead of the curve thanks to contributions from Schwartzstein and their entire production crew.
"One of our mantras is 'if teams care then we care'," Schwartzstein told FanBuzz. "Analytics help drive the Eagles to be better on fourth down, so they come up with the 'tush push' play. It's about football still. We're not telling you this big number is better than this little number you should trust us on this. We're trying to make you better at understanding that this can now lead to the new cool designs that you're seeing...I think that as teams invest in analytics, broadcasts will follow suit, because a broadcaster's job is to help explain the story of the game."
Despite all of Prime Vision's success, Schwartzstein is more than happy with it staying as an alternate broadcast rather than the main feed. He views the broadcast as a test feed and incubator to come up with ambitious ideas, almost on a weekly basis, to try out new features to help fans learn more about the game. As someone who has a background working in tech startups, Schwartzstein loves that Amazon is providing the tools to treat Prime Vision with Next Gen Stats much lose those startups he's worked with in the past.
"That's what's so great is that we're being pushed to try things," Schwartzstein said. "We have a ton of people, brain power, and resources to start thinking this way, and if things don't work, we'll get rid of them. But, at some point, some of these features could migrate to the main broadcast, which would be huge."
Fans will continue to get a slightly tweaked version of Prime Vision with Next Gen Stats almost every week. But for hardcore football fans who want to get a more in-depth look at the game, there won't be a better broadcast for them to watch on Thursdays, Mondays, or Sundays throughout the NFL season.
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