Tonight at 7:30 PM Central Daylight Time you’ll be able to “tune in” to Twitter to watch the first Thursday Night Football game of the 2016 NFL season between the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills.” to Twitter to watch the first Thursday Night Football game of the 2016 NFL season between the New York Jets and the Buffalo Bills.
The social media channel, as you likely already know, won the deal to live stream 10 Thursday Night Football games this season, beating out larger players such as Facebook, Amazon, and Google for the live streaming video rights.
— Roger Goodell (@nflcommish) April 5, 2016
“Since April, Twitter has signed a series of live-streaming deals, including with Wimbledon, CBS News, the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and Pac-12 Networks. Twitter is also in discussions with other organizations, including Major League Soccer and the Professional Golfers Association, for similar agreements, according to people briefed on the talks.”
— Anthony Noto (@anthonynoto) July 25, 2016
It’s a good fit for Twitter, both the NFL deal and the concept of coupling social media with live TV in general.
[Tweet “Twitter’s TV Ambitions #SocialTV”]
The Live Events Channel
Twitter has long been the go-to social channel breaking news. It is the default channel where journalists go to break a story.
Users, on the other hand, have long used Twitter to efficiently follow updates about a given news story as it unfolds. Users have also used Twitter to follow coverage of staged events such as Apple product launches or conferences like the Consumer Electronics Show or South by Southwest. The behavior of using the channel in real time to follow stories or events is a common one for the channel’s users. Twitter itself is positioning the network as the place to go for what’s happening now, as this promo video demonstrates:
A Fast Company article by Harry McCracken quotes Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on the NFL deal:
Dorsey says that Twitter can give partners such as the NFL something other tech companies can’t. “We’re doing the thing that people have been doing for close to 10 years, which is: They watch a screen, and they tweet about it,” he says, motioning toward an imaginary HDTV and then cradling a phantom smartphone in his hands. “We’re bringing that into the same screen, and, most important, we’re making that mobile, so you can watch it anywhere.”
“We really ended up with Twitter because we thought it gave us a great opportunity for incremental audience reach and mobile reach,” says Brian Rolapp, executive VP of media for the NFL, which awarded these games to Twitter even though it wasn’t the highest bidder. “We have data that says 7 of 10 of our fans have a second screen open [while watching games]. They’re texting, they’re playing fantasy, they’re on Twitter.” If superfans aren’t at home to watch a broadcast, the league would much prefer that they watch and cheer in the Twitter app than do something other than think about football.
Social television is a largely overlooked aspect of this deal but it is the part that can really make this deal work for both parties…and for live television generally.
As the aforementioned quote points out, this behavior is nothing new. People have been holding social conversations while watching TV in real time for years.
I recorded this screencast in 2010 when Google had been indexing tweets in real time (sadly, the search engine no longer does this), which shows how people discuss a television show–in this case Glee–in real time on Twitter.
There’s a reason Twitter is so focused on sports. People love to discuss their favorite teams, as I well know. I host a weekly Twitter chat during Vikings games with fellow fans. You need only follow the hashtag of your favorite team during a game to get a sense of the volume of conversation that takes place with regard to sporting events on Twitter.
But those are not the only events people take to Twitter to discuss. Another large and obvious topic is politics. Twitter recognized that with their live streaming of the Democratic and Republican conventions. Here’s what it looked like.
Marketers will definitely want in on those conversations but will need to learn to navigate Twitter’s sometimes contentious waters while avoiding the fail whale. Perhaps the most appealing aspect of social television is the ability to provide your own running commentary concurrently or even in place of that which is being broadcast.
Part of the sport of being a spectator on social is to point out the absurd or sometimes shockingly uninformed comments of those on screen. Last Sunday, for example, Dick Stockton misidentified several Vikings players throughout the game and that fact did not escape the scorn of Vikings fans on Twitter.
Matt Lauer’s regrettable performance as the moderator of NBC’s “Commander In Chief” presidential forum was topic A on Twitter during the broadcast.
Everyone wants to provide their own personal Mystery Science Theater 3000 snarky soundtrack to the screen action. The question is how marketers will deal with it.
Television Advertising Budgets
Fast Company goes on to quote John Ourand, media reporter for Sports Business Journal, making the point that the NFL made both ESPN and Fox Sports the powerhouse sports programming networks they are today. Twitter is hoping the NFL deal will do the same for itself.
Twitter is clearly hoping NFL programming can bring them both a larger audience and the advertisers that will follow. New York Times reporter Mike Issac told CNBC that 72% of Twitter users are in the advertising sweet spot of 18-34 year-olds.
Live television is the last bastion of the captive audience. Couple that with the social signals Twitter generates, and advertisers can be assured that the audience is actually paying attention. Then add to all of that the increasingly sophisticated demographic, psychographic, technograpic and behavioral targeting capabilities of a social network like Twitter and you could see why big television advertisers would be willing to shift ad budgets from traditional television to social TV.
Television is obviously evolving and the battle over the direction of that evolution is currently being waged by Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, Google, Apple, Facebook and, yes, Twitter.
UPDATE: Here’s the Twitter Moment compilation of the Jets vs Bills game: