Surprising. Potentially game changing.
The struggling social network reportedly paid under $10 million to stream 10 games, about $5 million less than other bidders, who included online giants Amazon, Verizon and Facebook. Twitter has struggled over the past year with senior management problems, stagnant user growth and an inability to build its advertising revenues. It is the first time that Twitter will host extended live content.
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A CNBC report indicated that Facebook had the inside track on streaming rights but that the company and the NFL couldn't come to an agreement on the value of the games.
Yet the league also seemed intrigued by Twitter's potential to generate interest among its 320 million users, particularly Millennials (Twitter says that a wider network of more than 800 million people may access its content). This generation has been more apt to access its news and sports via social media channels than other generations. The NFL may have also been inclined to work with Anthony Noto, a former finance chief for the league and now Twitter's CFO. Noto reportedly spearheaded the deal.
The league has reportedly seen significant surges in Twitter traffic during these games. The Thursday games averaged about 17 million viewers. The NFL announced in February that it would expand the Thursday night schedule to 16 games, up from last season's 13-game slate. Thursday Night football launched in 2006 to fill the traditional mid-week gap in the league schedule.
The deal comes as the league has faced scrutiny for its responses to a slew of off-field incidents involving players and data linking football to brain injuries in current and former players.
What isn't as clear is how Twitter will stream and monetize the games, who will be watching and how users will respond. It's also unclear how the Twitter feed will dovetail with the simulcasts of CBS and NBC.
Twitter will stream the Thursday night broadcasts, but the networks will continue to present their own simulcasts. Viewing the games will not require a network or cable subscription. The Thursday night games will also remain viewable on the Verizon wireless network in the U.S. CBS and NBC paid a collective $450 million for broadcast rights.
Millennial viewing patterns differ from those of other audiences. But it's uncertain if they will watch a live stream of an NFL game for more than five minutes? Will they stay engaged during ad breaks? The social network will reportedly receive 15 advertising slots to fill during each game.
The scope and scale of the broadcasts will raise the technical bar for Twitter (and the NFL). The streaming will be available globally and will not require a login or authentication.
Meanwhile, the deal should give viewers more in-depth access to the games. For example, expect Twitter's Periscope streaming product play a prominent role. For example, viewers might see stars Odell Beckham, Tony Romo or J.J. Watt live on Periscope from the tunnel or beneath the stands on a given Thursday night. This is the type of content with which Millennials have been more likely to engage.
To be sure, Twitter and the NFL face technological and other challenges to make this agreement work. But it will be intriguing to see the final product evolve. The likely winner will be the sports fan.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.