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7 April 2016

Twitter grabs NFL streaming deal in latest sports OTT transition

Twitter has landed a licensing deal to livestream ten of the NFL’s Thursday Night Football games for a sum reported at between $10 million and $15 million. A price tag of around $1.25 million per game may seem a lot, but we think the social media platform has bagged itself an absolute bargain.

To put this into perspective, Yahoo paid around $17 million to stream just one NFL game from London in the last NFL season, while more recently, CBS and NBC paid some $45 million per game for five Thursday night NFL games. Over in the UK, BT Sport paid around $1.35 billion in 2013 for the broadcast rights to Europe’s most prestigious club competition, the Champions League, in a three-year deal. This was a major blow to Sky, which responded by splashing a record $6.27 billion to secure the bulk of Premier League soccer coverage until 2019.

So why did Twitter get such a cheap deal? The NFL has publicly stated that Twitter was not the highest bidder, meaning that other bidders for the streaming rights such as Verizon, Yahoo, and Amazon were willing to pay substantially more than $10 million. This suggests that the NFL is treating this as a sort of trial run, in the same way the Yahoo deal was, in which Twitter will broadcast the live stream alongside a live feed of Tweets, most likely featuring news, stats and figures for the match, along with celebrity posts and advertisements.

This is yet another example of the multi-year trend the industry has seen of viewers getting more and more news and content from online sources or distribution channels and less and less news from traditional sources – and now that behavior is encroaching on TV, too.

Twitter has some 300 million monthly active users, and of course owns live streaming app Periscope, but never before has it had to cope with millions of people simultaneously viewing a single live stream – last season the Thursday night NFL games pulled in a reported 17 million viewers.

All streaming platforms are plagued with outages once in a while. Live video presents its own set of problems, which no OTT platform or service has yet perfected. During the live streamed NFL game on Yahoo in October 2015 – which the NFL deemed a great success – viewers were hit with a stuttering image and bouts of buffering, not to mention a tangible delay between the live streamed video feed and the game-related Twitter feed. However, it saw impressive viewing figures – reaching 15 million viewers and generating over 33 million views online around the world.

This deal is the latest in a series of moves made by the NFL toward internet TV. Last year, the NFL launched a YouTube channel – with rumors that Google is paying a multi-million-dollar sum yearly for the content. The NFL has previously partnered with Twitter for video deals, as well as with Facebook and Verizon. It’s all part of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s goal to “develop new platforms, expand fan interaction and deepen fan engagement”.

“What was more important than the highest economic bid to us, was the fan experience. So many of our fans use Twitter during games, and that was one of the things that was important to us.  said Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s EVP of media. “The platform is built around live events already. We want to see how they use the unique platform, and syndicated tweets all over the Internet is going to be interesting.”

Live sports are going OTT, increasingly outside the control of the pay TV channels that have historically controlled them, and this latest development is just another step in that direction – the National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), PGA Tour, the Tennis Channel, WWE, and more, have all gone OTT with the successful viewing figures to match.

A separate but fitting report from Defy Media, a digital producer and programmer in the US, recently published results finding that 76% of respondents consume video on smartphones – with 48% of these using social media sources (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Tumblr) as go to platforms for video.