Marketers will be tuning in to find out if Amazon’s live English Premier League coverage heralds a new opportunity for data-driven brand-building, says Alex Brownsell.

Liverpool’s quest for the club’s first English Premier League title is likely to attract some fresh interest from viewers in Seattle, Washington in the coming days.

The Reds’ clash with Merseyside rivals Everton on Wednesday night (4 December) is among a clutch of EPL soccer matches to be simulcast by Amazon in the UK. A further batch of games will be shown by the e-commerce giant over Christmas, marking one its biggest moves into live sports content to date.

Credibility will be Amazon’s key aim, particularly after the debacle of its broadcast of last year’s US Open tennis tournament. Amazon has recruited a who’s-who of British football royalty to lead its coverage, including ex-England strikers Alan Shearer and Peter Crouch and former France star Thierry Henry. A tongue-in-cheek campaign demonstrates how customers can access the coverage across devices, including on mobile app and via Amazon’s Fire TV services.

For brands, however, the more pressing question is likely to be whether the acquisition of EPL rights hints at an impending introduction of advertising to Amazon’s Prime Video service. Indeed, a report by Digiday suggests UK ad buyers have been approached regarding 13 minutes of “TV-like inventory” set to run during live streams. 

It certainly makes sense. Live sport remains one of the few opportunities for TV media owners to attract mass, live broadcast audiences. Furthermore, fans – particularly in the case of sports like soccer and the NFL – have come to expect ads during appropriate intermissions. A 60-second video spot after Liverpool and Everton’s players have jogged into the changing rooms for the half-time break would be received quite differently to a mid-roll ad interrupting a viewer’s favourite Netflix show.

Moreover, it would help Amazon in its efforts to attract ad dollars from the brand-building pots currently reserved for media channels like TV and OOH. 

The firm’s staggering ad revenue growth has been fuelled by the popularity of search formats such as Sponsored Product, and investment has largely been secured from brands’ performance marketing budgets.

Marketers are now keen to understand how the platform can be used to contribute towards brand metrics via its largely homogenous formats and indistinct Store designs, especially as Amazon becomes more integral to customer journeys.

As advertisers grapple with a scarcity of broadcaster video on-demand (BVOD) inventory in the markets like the UK, it seems an open goal for Amazon to unleash its unrivalled audience data into the connected TV space.

Yet, despite the scale of the opportunity, brands may find themselves disappointed by Amazon’s approach, according to Richard Kirk, Managing Partner (Strategy & Data) at Zenith UK.

Writing for WARC’s Marketer’s Toolkit 2020 report, Kirk warns that Amazon’s “left brain, engineering-led culture” is likely to hinder the development of brand-building ad formats which do little to enhance “relevancy” and may damage user experience. See the platform’s ruthless decision to scrap a sampling programme popular among brands but considered “creepy” by some users.

“Whilst Amazon can deliver a scaled audience, building new formats that help advertisers land their message in an attention-grabbing way will be tough, as it rubs up against ‘customer obsession’, Amazon’s raison d’être,” Kirk added.

The platform’s hesitancy can be neatly summed up in one statistic: while non-members spend on average $600 a year with Amazon, that figure surges to $1400 in the case of Prime members. In other words, before introducing any ads to Prime Video, Amazon would have to be absolutely certain it could raise enough in ad revenues to compensate for potential losses from advertising-phobic customers cancelling their Prime subscription.

Amazon appears to be dipping its toes into the water of immersive, full-screen ad formats. Yet, given its deep-rooted emphasis on efficiency and customer experience, marketers would be unwise to pin their hopes on the platform becoming a natural home for brand-building marketing. 

Read more in WARC’s deep-dive report: Marketer’s Toolkit 2020: Building brands in the walled gardens.