There was limited time to interview Hannah Storm and Andrea Kremer last week, so I made sure to ask the veteran sports journalists about becoming the first all-female duo to call an entire NFL game; what it’s like doing play-by-play and color commentary for Amazon’s Thursday Night Football streams; and how having a viewership across 200 countries and territories changes the way they describe the live action.
But as our chat came to a close, Kremer wasn’t ready to end it.
“Hold on, wait a minute — Taylor, it’s GeekWire!” said Kremer. “You have to let us talk a little bit about X-Ray!”
My bad, Andrea!
Kremer and Storm will embark on their sophomore season calling games for Amazon, which will stream Thursday Night Football matchups for the third consecutive year, beginning with Thursday’s Packers vs. Eagles matchup.
— Hannah Storm (@HannahStormESPN) September 19, 2019
Last year, they made a bit of sports broadcasting history — it was the first time two female announcers called an NFL game.
Now the longtime TV reporters have a year of experience under their belts, as well as some new tech tools Amazon is rolling out this season.
Amazon Prime members who watch via Prime Video will be able to access Next Gen Stats, the NFL’s advanced statistics previously only available to coaches and broadcasters, using a custom-built version of Amazon’s X-Ray feature. The technology launched in 2013 and is traditionally used for movies and TV to enhance the viewing experience with additional information about actors, soundtrack info, trivia and behind-the-scenes clips and interviews.
Now Amazon is using X-Ray to enhance live sports in new ways.
“It’s going to be really, really easy to customize your viewing experience,” Storm said.
For Kremer and Storm, the Amazon gig is the latest accomplishment on already-impressive broadcasting resumes. Kremer is a chief correspondent for NFL Network who was honored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year as a recipient of the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award. Storm is a long-time ESPN SportsCenter anchor who has nearly three decades of sports broadcasting experience and previously worked for CBS and CNN.
Fans will again be able to toggle between multiple audio options on the Amazon stream, including from Storm and Kremer, as well as a feed from the Fox TV broadcast (Fox owns the U.S. broadcast rights) with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman and two others in Spanish and U.K. English.
Storm and Kremer will be working out of a revamped studio in Connecticut with more video monitors and an in-studio stats researcher. They’ll also provide analysis as part of a new 30-minute pregame show called NFL Next.
Read on to learn more about how the duo is approaching their second season. This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.
GeekWire: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. How are you feeling, going into your sophomore year, and what are you excited about this time around?
Andrea Kremer: This time last year, I can honestly say I was more nervous than I’ve ever been in my career. Even though we’re hired for our credentials, we’d never done these particular roles before. You can rehearse, but until you actually do it, you really don’t know if you can. I’ve talked to so many rookie head coaches and then I talked to them in their second year and they said, ‘oh my, I don’t even know what I didn’t know last year.’ And I think that’s to an extent how we felt.
We made it through 11 games, we got better each week to the point where Amazon renewed us seven months early, which was a tremendous vote of confidence. But now we’ve had a whole offseason to prepare. I’ve told this to Hannah — how wonderful is it to just know that we can do it, because we’ve done it?
Hannah Storm: It’s a great analogy with the rookie head coach. I actually felt more like a rookie quarterback because the game happened so fast. There is such a lead up and so much preparation — and then boom, they kick off and it’s over before you know it.
One thing that Andrea and I got used to was not only the pace of the game, but the pace of our week, which really mirrors a football team. They’re playing on Sunday. Andrea and I are watching those games on Sunday — in between our other jobs, of course — and it’s really tough to prepare that quickly. It’s very, very challenging. Players and coaches are preparing quickly, we’re preparing quickly, and that clock just keeps ticking down to Thursday night.
Having done that 11 weeks last year, we really understand the pace of that — how to pace ourselves, how to pace our research, when to do certain interviews.
Kremer: It’s just like the teams in the offseason — you go back, you watch the film, you watch what you did, you learn what you need to do differently. We learned that, OK, we did all these interviews, but what did we really use? What kinds of things are we really going to use during the course of a game? Just understanding how to pace that is going to be very helpful going into this season.
GeekWire: This experience is also different for you both because you’re not actually at the game — you’re calling it from a room in Connecticut. And you’re also going off of FOX’s broadcast feed. How does this change how you do your job?
Storm: We’re armed with all of these great stories and background and nuance. But I think one of the things that Andrea and I learned right away is that the game is premium — the pace of the game and the game itself. When you have all of the great research and contacts and information that we do, you really have to understand the rhythm of telling those stories within the broadcast of the game, which is paramount.
So that’s something that we had become much more adept at. We understand when to lay back on the storytelling, when to go full on with strictly what’s happening on the field.
And then we do it in the context of streaming. Being the traffic cop on these broadcasts is really challenging. We are literally calling it off a Fox broadcast, in and out of their breaks, in and out of when their announcers come on camera. Their graphics are flying by and we just have to seamlessly take a left hand turn. Andrea and I might be talking about something else, but something different will appear on screen, so you have to be a especially nimble. They might start to roll a replay three times and we’ll be having to really parse for ourselves: why are they replaying that, what’s the reason?
We are armed to the teeth when we go in, but if we don’t use any of it, that’s O.K., too, because there’s so much going on for us to make it sound smooth to the people at home, in this context.
Kremer: This is something actually that I think gets undervalued and underappreciated. Hannah’s role is so vital because she’s done everything; she’s done live sports, she’s done live news. She can handle anything that gets thrown at her. And so she is much more than just your traditional play-by-play person. She’s a host on top of it and she gets to use that whole skillset, which is pretty unique. Hannah’s ability to be this flexible, to really use her experience as such a seasoned broadcaster, is very underrated. It’s something that really is one of the hallmarks of our broadcast.
GeekWire: Amazon is a pretty new player in the live sports broadcasting world. What’s it like working with the company?
Kremer: This is not being pollyannaish at all. The main executive that we work with, every single week before the game he would say to us, “are you having fun?” And literally that’s the direction they gave us. They said, “we’re hiring these two broadcasters — who by the way happen to be women — because of your experience and your knowledge. So we want this broadcast to be your voice, which means tell the stories you wanted to tell. Take the approach, the philosophy, your preparation, and how can we support it?”
We’ve worked for a lot of people. It’s such a unique experience to be able to have that, to be able to have people who just support you and aren’t telling you what to do, what to say, what to avoid. It’s incredibly unique and it’s very, very genuine.
Storm: The direction that we got going into this season was, “we need more of that.” We have been tasked with making our voices even stronger throughout the entire football game. They want more of our perspective on the game, on the sport, on the news of the week. They’ve asked us to really double down in that regard and make sure that top to bottom during the broadcast it’s our voices that ring clear.
Sometimes with all of the technical challenges that we have in terms of making it clean and seamless to people at home — the reason that we have to work so hard on that it is so that what you really hear is our voices.
We want people to feel as if we were there, and Amazon really helped us do that. They made some audio tweaks so that we can hear what’s going on during the game. For Andrea and I, just from an audio standpoint, we have more of a sense of the ambience. And we’ve been to enough live events that we understand all the workings that happen on the field.
They want more of what we bring to the table.
Kremer: That audio enhancement also allows us to hear the quarterback at the line of scrimmage, which is a big deal because if they’re audibling or whatever, we can hear that. In the past we necessarily couldn’t. So these are small things that the audience might not notice, but for us as broadcasters, it’s just one more layer that will enhance our broadcast.
GeekWire: Talk a bit about being the first all-female duo to call an NFL game — what does that mean for you? What does it mean for the industry, or even the world at large?
Storm: It’s funny that you said the phrase, “the world at large,” because our broadcast goes into over 200 countries. We really don’t know who’s listening. A lot of people will be accessing NFL football that would not be able to access it otherwise, other than being Prime members and having a streaming option. So the first NFL game that a lot of them will hear, two women will be calling it. That’s really cool for Andrea and I because it’s something that we want to feel normal to people. We want this to just feel like it’s two great broadcasters who love football and we’re all sitting on the couch together and watching this really fascinating game.
We get a lot of awesome feedback. An executive came up to me last year and he’s like, “I saw you guys on Thursday night.” And asked him why he watched us. He said, “all my daughters wanted to watch the girls talk about football.” I thought that was so sweet and cool. We get anecdotes like that constantly.
Of course it’s our dream that this will just start the wave, and more and more people will be doing it. To have two women doing it side by side, it’s pretty special to have us really fronting this incredible property. We’ve done trailblazing things in the past, throughout our career, so to have the opportunity to do that at this point in our careers, it’s really special.
Kremer: It’s not as though they sit here and say, “oh, we need to hire women.” They want to hire the best people. And they happen to be women.
Amazon didn’t set out and try to get two women. One of the things that we actually learned in the offseason, which we really didn’t know, was that when this was initially pitched to Amazon, it was pitched as Hannah Storm and Andrea Kremer. If we had not accepted, if it hadn’t worked out that way, it’s not as though they had a plan B. They just weren’t going to do it. That vote of confidence going in was pretty great.
I happened to be at an event yesterday that was full of a number of female executives and I cannot tell you the number of people that came up to me and said, “we can’t wait until your season starts.” When you tune in to Amazon, because we are an option that you have to pick, in this country people will go to us specifically because it’s our voices. They want to hear a different perspective and that’s fine. It’s great being an option. And if we’re not somebody’s cup of tea, that’s O.K., too. But we just feel that we bring 30 years of reporting and journalism experience to this broadcast and it definitely has a unique voice.
GeekWire: It’s been fun talking to you, and thanks for doing the interview.
Kremer: Hold on, wait a minute — Taylor, it’s GeekWire! You have to let us talk a little bit about X-Ray!
GeekWire: OK! Tell me about how this changes the viewer’s experience.
Storm: X-Ray will give the people watching direct access to those real-time Next Gen Stats and live play-by-play analysis, which is going to be amazing. It was previously available to coaches or stuff that we might see, but people at home wouldn’t have access to it. Next Gen Stats are incredible analytics and very situationally specific. Now you’re going to be able to access those in real time with X-Ray, which will be available on all devices. It’s going to be very cool and it will be really, really easy to customize your viewing experience.
I’ve been joking with Andrea that there’s such a turnover at quarterback this year that we need all the information we can get. There’s so many new faces and some new offensive systems and new coaches — there’s a lot of innovation in the game. So I think it makes sense that there’s innovation in the way to watch it as well.
Kremer: It definitely speaks to the way that technology is moving in the broadcast business, in the streaming business. It’s the idea that, especially for for younger viewers and listeners, they want it customized, they want more information. It’s just another great feature that Amazon brings to its unique broadcast. And in terms of how it will impact us directly — we never want to be a stats-heavy broadcast. But you get us, and then as a supplement you get all this other terrific information.
GeekWire: We’ve talked a lot about storytelling — that data becomes part of the story, too, right?
Kremer: That’s a great point. If we do see some trends that are developing, then it’s our job to explain it. I get to do the ‘why’ — we can have the ‘what,’ but we have to give the ‘why.’ The ‘why’ is what’s usually important.