Twitter Upsets Rivals to Win Thursday Night Football Streaming Rights

The National Football League on Monday named Twitter its exclusive global partner to live-stream 10 Thursday Night Football games during the 2016 season.

Twitter reportedly beat out some of the top content and social media providers for the contract.

It will live-stream the games for free to more than 800 million registered and unregistered users over mobile phones, tablets, connected TV sets and personal computers, while CBS and NBC will broadcast the games, which will be simulcast over the NFL Network.

The NFL and Twitter, which have been partners since 2013 through a partnership called “Amplify,” also will broadcast in-game highlights from Thursday Night Football and pre- and postgame Periscope feed from players and teams.

“This is about transforming the fan experience with football,” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said. “People watch NFL games with Twitter today. Now they’ll be able to watch right on Twitter Thursday nights.”

Taking the Long View

Twitter did not outbid other technology companies but was actually one of the lower bids submitted, a source familiar with the company’s strategy told the E-Commerce Times.

The company plans to continue to invest in live-streaming video content.

“Twitter is where live events unfold and is the right partner for the NFL as we take the latest step in serving fans around the world live NFL Football, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said.

The announcement follows last fall’s exclusive live-stream of a special Wembley Stadium game in London between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Buffalo Bills over Yahoo. It reached more than 33.6 million views and 15.2 million unique viewers across all devices, according to the NFL.

The league, which already offers live regular season games on DirecTV satellite and online as well as on-demand games over the Web for a fee, has been working to expand its presence on various video content providers as the viewing habits of millennials move away from traditional television.

In March, NFL Films announced the premier of All or Nothing, a behind-the-scenes documentary of the 2015 Arizona Cardinals series to be available exclusively on Amazon Video.

Proving Ground

The deal is potentially very lucrative for Twitter, but it must demonstrate that it can pull off the live-stream with few technical glitches, which may prove to be a challenge, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

“That certainly won’t be easy. Successfully streaming live video is no easy task,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “But the combination of live NFL action and Twitter could put a new spin on football that is every bit as dynamic as a properly thrown spiral pass.”

It’s not clear how the NFL deal would improve Twitter’s relationship with its user base, according to Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

“Broadcasting NFL games is definitely something new and unique, but it may be too far of a stretch and not really the interactive or community experience you would expect from Twitter,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Ratings Increase

Under the agreement, CBS and the NFL Network will televise the first half of the season, and NBC and the NFL Network the second half. CBS and NBC will provide their lead broadcasters and production teams for the games. The NFL Network also will broadcast eight late-season games, including a mix of Thursday Night Football, Saturday games and other games to be determined later.

The Thursday Night Football games on CBS and the NFL Network (and over-the-air stations) averaged a 7.9 rating and 13 million viewers in 2015, up 59 percent and 61 percent, respectively, from 2013, when the games were only on the NFL Network, the NFL said.

Thursday Night Football games attracted more than 199 million viewers during the 2015 season, according to Nielsen figures, representing 78 percent of all television homes and 67 percent of potential viewers in the U.S.

David Jones is a freelance writer based in Essex County, New Jersey. He has written for Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times.

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