While Facebook's pushing hard to promote their own live-stream offering, and YouTube's reportedly set to introduce their own, dedicated live-streaming app, don't think Twitter and Periscope are going to concede to the bigger players anytime soon.
The NFL has today announced that Twitter has been awarded a deal to become an exclusive league partner and deliver live digital streams of Thursday Night Football to its global audience across devices, and for free, during the course of the 2016 NFL regular season. Twitter will stream 10 Thursday Night Football games, which will also be broadcast by NBC and CBS and simulcast on NFL Network. Twitter will make up the final element of the NFL's "Tri-Cast" distribution model - broadcast (NBC/CBS), cable (NFL Network), and digital (Twitter).
The announcement's a major win for Twitter, who've beat out Amazon, Verizon, and even Facebook, to win the rights. Twitter's also reportedly paid less than rival bidders, paying less that $10 million for the entire 10-game package.
"We didn't take the highest bidder on the table," The NFL's executive vice president of media, Brian Rolapp, told Bloomberg. "The platform's 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."
So what does this mean for Twitter, and how will it work, exactly? It's not clear, at present, how the platform's planning to incorporate live NFL matches into the wider Twitter experience, but it opens up a whole range of new possibilities, a new framework that will need to be put in place to facilitate the deal, but will also extend to other video functions on Twitter.
So how will Twitter handle an actual, three-hour long, live TV broadcast? You'd assume Periscope will play a part - in the NFL's announcement, Periscope's mentioned specifically, though only in relation to pre-game content, noting that the live-streaming platform will allow for a more immersive user experience. Twitter, of course, won't be recording the content themselves - they'll be streaming the network feeds from CBS and NBC - but given the capacity to showcase their capability in covering live events, you'd expect Twitter would be keen to incorporate additional elements into the NFL live experience. Given that Twitter already has a system in place to manage and edit live tweet feeds for quality, which they've implemented as part of the 'Moments' roll-out, it should be relatively easy for Twitter to build an immersive, all-encompassing fan experience on the platform - but how that presentation actually looks will be most interesting.
Twitter's had a deal in place with the NFL since 2013, related to highlights (like the below) and other content, which has enabled Twitter to strengthen their relationship with NFL fans - the @NFL handle has more than 17.2 million followers as of right now.
And through Moments, Twitter's been able to put even more focus on NFL content and events - but incorporating whole, live games is an entirely different scenario, and you'd expect Twitter will need to come up with a new presentation format to best facilitate that feed.
An interesting template to look at on this front might actually come from Facebook - earlier this year, Facebook introduced a new tool called 'Sports Stadium' which aims to help sports fans on Facebook get more involved in the on-platform discussion around each game.
Via Sports Stadium, Facebook shows a text-based play-by-play account of the game at the top of the screen and collects all game related posts from your friends, posts and commentary from experts, stats, etc., all incorporated into one, easy to follow feed. One would suspect that Sports Stadium was actually implemented as part of Facebook's bid to win the Thursday Night Football rights, where instead of the play-by-play, users would actually have had access to the live game feed.
This game-focused template may actually form a good foundation for how Twitter should approach their broadcast - maybe there'll be an option to have the game on the main screen, then a side bar with live tweets and additional content, like related Periscope streams.
Such a template, in itself, would require a significant re-think at Twitter as to how it presents content, and will likely lead to a whole new range of options for users to better incorporate video into their own strategies. Of course, the above mock-up is totally made up by me - but imagine if Twitter were to build such a tool and enable you to use it for your own Periscope broadcasts? One of the key issues with Periscope at the moment is that it's separated off into its own app, with comments and discussions disappearing after 24 hours, when the broadcast does. But what if there was a new platform for Periscope which connected tweet streams and live broadcasts like the above, with additional questions and contributors able to 'call-in' via a second screen in the bottom right?
Beyond NFL games alone, the introduction of whole broadcasts on Twitter will open up a range of new presentation possibilities and opportunities. There's obviously a lot more to it than what I've outlined in basic form here, but you can see how the introduction of live NFL broadcasts on Twitter could expand the platform's capacity to showcase video content and provide users with new options to reach their audiences.
A Winning Play?
It'll be interesting to see how Twitter works to bring the NFL streams into the wider Twitter experience, and what advances will be implemented because of this new deal. Video is massive on Twitter at the moment - Twitter's own research suggests that 82% of their users watch video content on the platform, and more than 90% of those video views come via mobile device. Those two trends alone would suggest that the NFL deal is a perfect fit, giving people a new way to connect with popular content.
But there's a lot riding on the deal for Twitter. This is a massive opportunity for Jack Dorsey and Co, a big chance to showcase why Twitter is important, how the platform is the leader in real-time discussion and what value those conversations can actually bring, particularly to the multi-screening experience. If Twitter can get this right, it gives them a huge new audience to connect with, millions of NFL fans who'll be keen to see what Twitter has to offer and how the new Twitter/NFL partnership can enhance their viewing experience. And enhancing it will be key - Twitter needs to use the opportunity to showcase what they can do, why the platform is valuable and what it can add that no one else can.
Twitter's had its fair share of troubles in recent times, but this new deal could be the start of something big - and as noted, not just from the perspective of this deal alone, but in a wider sense of showing what Twitter can add to live events. And if they get it right, you can bet other live event partners will be keen to get their own deals in place for the same.
If they can get it right.
Expect to see more on the new NFL/Twitter experience soon.