Brace for the Amazon effect on live sport

IN 1993 FOX, a nascent cable network owned by Rupert Murdoch, an Australian-born tycoon, paid a fortune to scoop the rights to National Football League (NFL) games from under the nose of CBS, a veteran broadcaster. It caused a tremor in American television history. As one CBS reporter put it, “The NFL was ingrained in the walls of CBS like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite.” With cable, the cost of sports rights took off. So did the cash cow of modern broadcasting—the TV “bundle” of sports and other stuff, most of it barely watchable. At the peak in 2012, almost 90% of American homes subscribed to one pay-TV bundle or another.
Today that share has dwindled to about 65%. That makes the NFL even more important to the fortunes of the TV networks, including Fox and CBS (now merged with Viacom). American football is the most-watched live sport in the country, and sport trumps everything else for TV ratings and ad revenues. At a time when other entertainment is available at a sliver of the price from Netflix and other streaming services, live sport is the only thing left to induce viewers to pay through the nose for pay-TV. 

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Now the industry faces another once-in-a-generation upheaval. Last month Amazon, the e-commerce giant, offered about $11bn for the exclusive rights to stream Thursday-night NFL games for a decade…
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