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NFL football was the main attraction on Amazon on Thursday night. (Screenshot Via Amazon)

Amazon’s foray into major sports streaming kicked off tonight with a Thursday Night Football matchup between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers — and after initial buffering issues, the viewing experience went smoothly.

Amazon, which paid a reported $50 million for the rights to broadcast 11 Thursday night games starting with tonight’s matchup, certainly leveraged other parts of its business to spread the word about the broadcast, as banners for the game were all over Amazon’s apps and website.

I followed the game through the first half in pretty much every way imaginable: through the Fire TV Stick, Amazon’s home page on the computer, and the Prime Video app on my phone. Plenty of other fans tuned in as well; Amazon said people from 149 countries streamed the action during the first half.

On all platforms, the stream started out kind of rough, with buffering interruptions on the Fire Stick, video quality issues on the computer, and getting booted from the Prime Video app.

The internet was not psyched about the difficult start.

But after just a few minutes of game time, the streaming issues subsided and the quality was smooth for the rest of the first half. Once the problems went away, people returned to tweeting about the actual game, rather than the quality of the stream.

As the Bears’ comedy of errors let Green Bay jump out to a quick early lead, another stumbling block appeared: a nearly one-hour weather delay at the end of the first quarter due to lightning.

Aside from the game quality, Amazon’s interface was easy to use on all platforms, though without a lot of bells and whistles. It mostly felt like watching a regular TV presentation; Amazon’s stream mirrored the TV broadcast, which is either on CBS or NBC each Thursday. There was no social aspect akin to Twitter’s strategy last season with its own Thursday Night Football stream that featured tweets accompanying the game presentation.

One thing that stood out was that the game autoplayed in a small window on the homepage when logged into a Prime account.

Thursday Night Football autoplayed on the Amazon homepage. (Screenshot Via Amazon)

Interestingly enough, each stream had a slightly different slate of advertising. Reuters reported in June that Amazon was looking to charge $2.8 million for a 30-second spot.

Amazon also streamed a kickoff show hosted by Australian celebrity chef Curtis Stone and former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber that tied in with Amazon’s online shopping network, allowing customers to buy NFL-themed gear.

In addition to English, the game streamed in U.K. English, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese, with a focus on educating newcomers to the game. But the U.K. stream, while entertaining, wasn’t overly educational and at one point cut out in favor of the CBS stream. But the options do show how Amazon is trying to reach a global audience with the NFL streams — something that the league surely likes.

A standard football experience on the Amazon stream. (Screenshot Via Amazon)

The games are available exclusively to Amazon Prime members, who pay $99 annually, or $10.99 monthly, to belong to the company’s fast-shipping program and its host of benefits. In April, Amazon began offering a monthly $8.99 standalone Prime Video subscription. Prime members can watch the game in a variety of ways, including Fire TV, Amazon’s homepage, the Amazon Video app, Amazon Fire tablets and the Alexa-powered Echo Show device.

Amazon was advertising Prime throughout the game. For those who came in without a Prime account, clicking on the banner for the game gave them an option for a 30-day free trial for Prime.

Amazon’s dalliance into sports streaming represents yet another benefit for Prime members and gives customers another reason to sign up for the program, which offers free two-day shipping, cloud storage, and many more benefits. An analysis in July from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimated the number of Prime members in the U.S. at 85 million, making up well over 50 percent of the company’s U.S. customer base. CIRP also noted that Prime members tend to spend more with Amazon than non-members.

Throughout the season, Amazon also plans to ship more than 10 million orders in the United States and Mexico in football-themed boxes.

Thursday Night Football-themed Amazon boxes. (Amazon Photo)

One question mark is the number of people who watched Amazon’s stream on Thursday. Twitter reported approximately 2 million viewers for the initial game last year — a matchup between the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets — and that increased to 2.2 million the following week. Average viewership for the eight remaining games ranged from 2.6 million to 3.1 million, which Twitter reached for the Week 14 game between Oakland and Kansas City. For context, NBC said there were 17.4 million TV-only viewers for that Oakland vs. Kansas City game.

While Twitter broadcast its games for free, opening it up to virtually its entire user base, Amazon is betting that its following on Prime is more dedicated and likely to tune into a game. Amazon expanded its video service to more than 200 countries this past December, making it a more attractive options for leagues looking for a global audience.

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