A New Partnership with the NFL: Twitter’s Saving Grace?

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By Vlad Vidaeff

Twitter, are you ready for some football?  The NFL and Twitter have recently announced a streaming partnership for Thursday Night Football games.  This blog will discuss the terms of the agreement and what it means for the struggling social media network.  In the past, I have been critical of Twitter for several proposed or implemented changes to its platform.  In this case, I whole-heartedly support Twitter’s effort to make live TV an important aspect of its strategy moving forward.

Several heavy hitters made bids for the rights to stream the ten Thursday Night Football games next season including Twitter’s main competition, Facebook, as well as Amazon and Verizon.  In addition to live streaming of the games, the partnership includes in-game highlights as well as pre-game Periscope broadcasts from teams and players.  Periscope, owned by Twitter, is the leader in its industry.  The total package will give users an immersive experience and the best part- it’s FREE!  The games will be simultaneously broadcast on NBC, CBS, and the NFL Network.  While the aforementioned networks require a connected television, on Twitter, users will be able to watch the games without authentication on their mobile phones, tablets, computers, and/or connected TVs.  From an advertising perspective, Twitter will be rebroadcasting the national advertisements that will occur on CBS and NBC during the games.  The only ad opportunities that Twitter will be able to sell are those reserved by local broadcasts.  Twitter paid $10 million for the rights to this content and they were not the highest bid that the NFL received.  Why does this partnership make sense to the NFL and to Twitter?

On the NFL’s side, the ease of access on social media could attract consumers who would not typically invest three plus hours to sit and watch a game on TV.  There are several factors at work here.  The partnership gives users, especially millennials, the opportunity to multi-task, which is important to them.  They can simultaneously watch the game and comment on the game inside the same platform.  Without authentication, users who are overseas or who don’t have a connected TV will now be able to watch live games instead of trying to pirate the content on shady websites.  This is a phenomenal opportunity for the NFL to increase its reach and subsequently, the popularity of its brand.  What makes Twitter a better fit than other options such as Facebook, Amazon, and Verizon?

From the outset, Twitter has been the prime social media platform for breaking news and live events.  Given the character limit that encourages brevity of content, noteworthy news often breaks first on Twitter.  Moreover, sports command a significant portion of all conversations on the platform.  In fact, approximately half of all conversations on Twitter surround sports.  Athletes are quite active on the network as well.  Being able to keep up with pro athletes and add commentary when something exciting happens in a game makes Twitter a natural fit.  While the NFL could have received more money for its rights, it made the right decision in selecting Twitter given the synergy between the two companies.

What about the flip side, was this a good decision for Twitter? Here’s the short answer: #winning.  Twitter has faced tremendous pressure as shares are down 66.5% over the past year.  Success is measured by active monthly users and Twitter’s growth trajectory compared to other social media networks such as Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Pinterest pales in comparison.  To remedy these issues, Twitter has contemplated or instituted several major changes including altering its algorithm and eliminating the character limit.  Live TV is a natural extension of Twitter’s brand that could prove highly profitable in the future.  Consumers are changing the way they watch television.  More and more consumers, especially younger ones, are not willing to pay for cable.  Instead, they prefer to stream content on Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and the like.  We are likely to see a shift from an industry-driven market to a consumer-driven one in the future.  Social media platforms are primed to inhale a large chunk in a consumer-driven model.

The big question is who will win the war?  By partnering with the NFL, Twitter has taken the lead.  NFL content is extremely popular: 199 million people tuned in to regular season NFL games last season.  Additionally, NFL games accounted for 46 of the top 50 most-watched television shows among all programming last year.  The deal with the NFL will certainly draw viewers to Twitter, including new users.  This is exactly the type of big move that Twitter desperately needs.  Like JJ Watt, Twitter just flexed its muscles and sacked Facebook in this battle.


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