Amazon Prime’s Tyler Bern unpacks the platform’s Aussie sport strategy ahead of new AFL docuseries

Amazon Prime Video has joined the sports streaming tussle. The global platform's head of content Australia, Tyler Bern, speaks with Mumbrella's Zanda Wilson about content strategy and how the AFL documentary Marking Their Mark fits into the offering.

Amazon Prime Video’s new Australian docuseries focussing on the AFL – Making Their Mark – will be released globally on 12 March.

The series details the 2020, COVID-affected season from the perspectives of AFL players and execs from six teams, as they struggle with the daily challenges of life on and off the field, and includes the experiences of the senior leadership of eventual champions Richmond.

The launch of the series is the latest step in Amazon’s efforts to move deeper into the sporting space in Australia, shortly after striking a two-year live broadcast deal with Swimming Australia to show the Australian Swimming championship events globally on Prime Video.

Amazon Prime Video head of content Australia, Tyler Bern, says the platform has been looking at a number of sports over the years, and waiting for the right opportunity to dive in.

“It was really about the opportunity. So our partnership with swimming Australia it’s just really exciting, it’s a beloved Olympic sport, it’s a huge participation sport in Australia,” he says.

“And the opportunity to bring Australian swimming events, not only to our Australian customers, but to our global customers over the next two years was just awesome.”

He added: “We jumped in because of that specific opportunity. We’ve been looking at a number of different sports, live sports rights in the country, over the last couple of years.

“We felt really that this opportunity was the right one for us to jump in, get our feet wet… I can do swimming puns all day.”

Content strategy in a congested market

Despite having broadcast live sport for several years in the UK, Europe and North America, Amazon Prime Video’s partnership with Swimming Australia is its first foray into the market here.

But it’s not the first sports content it has produced locally, having released the 2020 documentary The Test, a fly-on-the-wall style series that followed the Australian National Cricket Team.

Jumping in the deep end now is an interesting move, however, given how competitive the local sports streaming market is becoming, with more established players Kayo (Foxtel) and Optus Sport, plus emerging platforms Stan Sport and Sports Flick.

Amazon Prime Video head of content Australia, Tyler Bern

Bern insists that now remains a good time to enter the equation. “We definitely believe that there’s a customer acquisition opportunity for us.

“Particularly having the trials right before the Olympics when there’s going to be a lot of excitement around the team to see who’s going to make it and go compete in Tokyo.”

Bern wouldn’t, however, be drawn on the other sports that Amazon is looking at to add to its content slate.

“Our focus, first and foremost is just on nailing swimming. Having our first live sporting event is a big deal from us, for me, my team, for Australian customers, for everybody globally.

”So we really want to nail it and execute and provide a really cool event. More longer term we’re evaluating opportunities, but we’re not looking to hit a specific volume. It’s really opportunity driven like the swimming opportunity.”

‘You pay for Prime, you get everything’

An eye-catching aspect about the addition of live sport, and the increasing number of original documentaries, is that Amazon Prime Video, unlike competitor platforms, is not adding any additional cost to a regular Prime subscription.

By way of comparison, Kayo Sports’ basic package costs $25 a month (though they have launched Kayo Freebies, and this week announced that a government grant will make women’s sport available for free).

Optus Sport costs $14.99 but the platform is free for most Optus customers, while Stan users will have to pay an extra $10 a month to use Stan Sport on top of a regular subscription ($10 monthly). Meanwhile, emerging player Sports Flick will set you back $14.99 but doesn’t yet have any local sports on its platform.

For Amazon Prime Video, the proposition is simple. “You pay for Prime, you get everything,” Bern says.

“I can’t speak to future plans, but I can tell you what we’re doing now and what our focus is on. I think that’s an important customer proposition, and it’s a ton of value.

“Live sport for $6.99 a month and you’re already getting all these great movies.”

Making Their Mark

With the global launch of Making Their Mark just days away, AFL executive general manager commercial & customer, Kylie Rogers, says Amazon was the perfect partner to tell the AFL stories to a wide audience, not just in Australia but globally.

“We have a really clear vision at the AFL, a really clear purpose, and that’s to progress the game so that everyone can share in its heritage and its possibilities,” she says.

“Clearly we want to progress our game by telling all the stories of the power and the passion of the AFL to as many people as possible, and Amazon can help us with that.

“We’ve noticed the trend from consumers, that there’s a demand for sports-tainment. So great storytelling, marrying sports and entertainment, and there isn’t a better partner out there that can deliver sports-tainment than Amazon.

“It’s a wonderful partnership and we’re really proud of the result.”

Bern admits that negotiating the deal to film Making Their Mark with the AFL was made easier thanks to Amazon Prime’s reputation for accurate and captivating documentaries here and in other markets.

“We have this great track record now, and it’s really about building trust and demonstrating trust. And so to answer your question, since we have a great track record, yes, those conversations were easier because we are viewed as a trusted partner to all these different teams and clubs all over the world.

“There’s been nothing in the media about Amazon betraying the trust of these teams or clubs. We take these relationships so seriously, not just with the clubs, but with the talent. We’re a talent-led studio, we want to make sure we’re doing right by everyone that we’re in business with.”

The COVID challenge

In terms of filming the docuseries itself, Bern reveals that COVID protocols meant there was “a lot of work that went into it”.

The series follows Eddie Betts (Carlton), Stephen Coniglio (GWS Giants), Stuart Dew (Gold Coast Suns), Nic Naitanui (West Coast Eagles), Rory Sloane, (Adelaide) and the senior leadership of the Richmond Football Club (Brendon Gale, Damien Hardwick and Peggy O’Neal), throughout the 2020 AFL season.

“Amazon has very strict COVID protocols and the safety and health of our crew and our cats, and everybody involved, was our number one priority,” Bern explains.

“And then there’s Australian government protocols, there’s AFL protocols. So we kept it incredibly safe and incredibly tight.

“So what we did is we just work around it, you set the rules. Everybody follows the rules and you can still shoot. COVID hit right when we started filming, but we were still able to film a great show, make it all the way through the season.

“We’re very happy with the results [but] it was definitely a challenge.”

AFL head of commercial, Kylie Rogers

Rogers adds that to be around the AFL teams and clubs the Amazon crew needed to adhere to the league’s protocols. “We had very strict protocols that our clubs had to adhere to, and because Amazon were following those clubs, that meant they had screenings on a daily basis and living under tight restrictions.

“It meant multiple COVID test weekly, so you can imagine the amount of work that went into the footage that we got. The access our clubs allowed Amazon to have over that period was unprecedented. So it was tricky, but there were that many restrictions that we had to work through, the result is an unbelievable raw, emotional, spectacular behind the scenes story of 2020.”

Rogers also reveals that the AFL’s other broadcast partners were all aligned with the vision, and there were no issues with giving Amazon access behind the scenes.

“All of our broadcast partners sharing the same vision as ours, which is to grow the game and progress the game, so they could see very clearly that this content series would only open up the game to more fans and to a broader audience.”

And while Bern insists that any further deals will be struck on an opportunity basis, he admits that Amazon has built a strong relationship with Cricket Australia and the AFL while filming recent docuseries.

Whether that relationship leads to future live sporting deals will be a wait-and-see proposition.

“We definitely have a relationship with cricket and AFL from making these documentaries but it’s really like we talked about, it’s on an opportunity basis. So we’ll just evaluate them as they come up.”

Making Their Mark will launch globally on Amazon Prime on 12 March, and it will be followed by another series later in the year, Kick Like Tayla, documenting the experiences of AFLW player
Tayla Harris.


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