When Amazon purchased the UK television rights for the US Open earlier this year in a £30m five-year deal, the acquisition seemed like the next stage of streaming giants acting as great disruptors to the established media order.
Potentially, Amazon could shape live sports broadcasting in ways that we can't yet imagine, much in the same way Netflix and Amazon Prime have influenced television dramas well beyond many observers' expectations.
After all, binge-watching was an alien concept only five years ago, an untitled habit enjoyed by a minority of viewers. It is now a mainstream method of watching content, with seasons of Emmy-award winning dramas like House of Cards and mass-market genre shows like Marvel’s Jessica Jones released by Netflix on one date in their entirety, with the emphasis placed on consumer choice.
Since Amazon has more than 100m customers on its flagship Prime service, recorded $177.9bn revenue in 2017 and saw its valuation pass $1tn this month, it should have been exciting to see their plans for tennis coverage unfold. They have even matched their broadcast of Flushing Meadows with a five-year deal for exclusive coverage of the men's ATP Tour, giving them rights to 37 additional tournaments including Masters events in Monte Carlo, Rome and Shanghai.
On paper, the US Open is the kind of high-quality international tournament that perfectly suits Amazon Prime. It is also the kind of sport with the mass appeal that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is looking for to attract further subscribers.
Unfortunately, its coverage of the tennis has been plagued with complaints.
Viewers have cited strange camera angles during rallies, restricted match choices on the menu, and erratic sound and picture quality.
Currently the US Open has a 1.7 stars out of five score on Amazon’s website, with 75 per cent of voters from a sample size of 1,311 reviews giving it 1 star – while the page even suspended reviews for several hours during the initial flurry of criticisms.
This is a shame, in that the coverage of live games should match the award-winning aspirations of their best dramas.
What is more of a shame is that Amazon’s coverage doesn’t wish to answer some of the most interesting questions about streaming live media.
For instance, should watching live sport on a smart phone or tablet merely replicate the output of satellite broadcasters and home entertainment systems, or should it to utilise the specific advantages of its own technology?
A tablet or smart phone, for example, is a much more personal item than a television: it normally belongs to a specific individual and can be carried everywhere.
It is held or placed only a few inches from someone’s eyes, and can be controlled much more intuitively than larger devices simply through touching the screen.
The shift towards streaming could symbolise a shift from a passive viewing experience on the sofa and having content curated by a broadcaster to the user having an unprecedented autonomy over what they watch and how they watch it.
There could be statistics and analysis at the touch of the button, along with the ability to replay key moments such as with BT Sport’s mobile app or BBC iPlayer.
In addition there could be a multi-screen option with the drag of a finger, making it easier than ever to change match, the ability to watch or take part in a social media feed while the game is playing, or change the camera angle of the match to suit your needs.
It could have been your personal experience of the US Open, much like how it is for any spectator at Flushing Meadows.
Aside from a rewind option, however, Amazon’s coverage is highly conservative in its aims.
Some continuity is fine, and trusted pundits and commentators such as Jim Courier, Greg Rusedski and Mark Petchey have performed to their usual high standards.
It is also welcoming that Amazon didn’t raise its prices for the US Open, as Prime membership remains at £79 a year.
Yet it feels like a missed opportunity this year with shortcomings in quality and ambition diminishing Amazon’s first foray into UK sports coverage.
This is disappointing considering the commitment they have shown with these exciting rights deals, but with such deep pockets and excellent quality elsewhere across their streaming service, there is still hope that things will improve when they broadcast the hard court season next year in Indian Wells and Miami.
Perhaps only then will we see whether Amazon’s coverage represents a sea change in live broadcasting or more of the same.