LONDON – Amazon Prime’s UK coverage of the US Open tennis has failed to serve an ace with fans. With the company planning on making a splash in broadcasting Premier League matches next year, British football fans should be worried about what they can expect.
One-star reviews and complaints about poor audio and video quality and a lack of replays have flooded in. The lack of replays meant UK tennis-lovers were unable to properly catch up with overnight matches. As a Prime subscriber here in the UK, I loaded up the service. I found that the interface was rather unintuitive compared the likes o services such as MLB.tv or the BBC iPlayer.
In a statement given to TMO, Amazon said: “We are working with customers to address specific issues – we listen to all customer feedback and are continuously working to improve the service.”
TMO understands that work has gone on to improve the quality of streams and to increase the number of replays available.
At the height of complaints coming in, reviews of the coverage were suspended. Amazon claims this was due to a technical error that was being fixed. Comments from earlier in the tournament included fans telling Amazon that they had “ruined the US Open for me” and blasting their coverage as “a huge backwards step for tennis”. Another said: “This is just terrible.”
Tech’s Live TV Struggles
Live broadcasting requires infrastructure and experience that traditional broadcasters clearly have. Amazon threw significant resources at the problem, but that obviously was not enough.
Indeed, it may have been more surprising had everything worked perfectly. Thomas Thomson, a TV Analyst at leading UK analysis firm Enders Analysis told TMO: “These issues are a recurring theme, not just for Amazon, for other new entrants in sports video. Amazon has had a brief history of playback and picture quality issues with last years livestream of NFL Thursday Night Football; YouTube TV suffered regional outages in its World Cup coverage in the summer; and, Perform Group’s [experienced] high-profile problems in Italy with the Serie A [Italy’s top soccer league] over the last fortnight.”
These struggles may also give some indication as to why Apple has so far resisted getting into live broadcasting, primarily sticking with Video on Demand (VoD) and developing a large stable of original, scripted content. For a company so focused on the perfection of the user’s experience, I believe streaming live events is simply too big a risk for Apple to take.
Preparing for the Premier League
The US Open tennis tournament is a learning experience for Amazon. However, it has not been a good start to its $40 million, five-year deal to be the exclusive UK broadcaster of the event.
Starting next year, Amazon will be broadcasting 20 coveted Premier League football (soccer in the U.S.) matches on Prime. The company will show every single Premier League team, drawing in millions of fans. While there is time to correct the problems seen at the US Open, Mr. Thomson said there are “most certainly” concerns.
“This will be a key litmus test for sports OTT as a sector,” he said. “Whilst their outlay on this Premier League package was low, the reputational risk is significant. The User Interface will need to be revamped, and if they can’t deliver at least an SD quality picture to 100% of viewers, then they will not be able to realistically compete with Sky and BT with traditional satellite and cable transmissions.”
Quite simply, getting it wrong is not an option, and this is a reality that faces all would-be entrants to this space from the tech industry.