Has Twitter stolen the ball in the digital revolution?

Stuart Fuller

Whilst the story may have passed under the radar this week, the news that Social Media giant Twitter has held off stiff competition to win the right to broadcast live American Football as of next season is likely to be one of the biggest tipping points in the social media revolution.

Twitter were up against Verizon, Yahoo, Amazon and originally Facebook to win the right to show 10 Thursday night games when the 2017/18 season starts in September as well being able to stream pre-match coverage through its Periscope platform.  By winning the bid Twitter will be able to deliver exclusive content to over 800 million users, who will be able to access the live stream from anywhere. The NFL signed a multi-year partnership with Twitter last year to deliver daily video and other content to fans.  "Twitter is where live events unfold and is the right partner for the NFL," said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Why is this so important in the development of the digital age? After all, streaming of live content on mobile devices is available now through apps such as BBC IPlayer or ITV Hub.  However, this is the first time that a Social Media platform has vertically moved into being a digital content broadcaster.  Amazon have been commissioning their own programmes such as Alpha House and Mr Robot for distribution on their on-demand platform for a few years but they've not yet moved into the live broadcast arena, although their failed bid to win the NFL rights could signify a change in strategy.

Twitter's model of instant reaction and interaction is made for sports fans.  The most tweeted moments in history are all around sporting events - adding a new dimension of actual live coverage will make the coverage even more immersive.  In addition, by owning the broadcast and offering it for free to users, the issue of illegal streaming and digital piracy for those games will be eliminated.  For the NFL it is a win-win.  They will have the cash from the bid made by Twitter and they will undoubtedly see their product reach new audiences, which in turn could leave to more subscribers for their other (paid) services.  With the recent successful moves to export American Football to new markets, such as the games now played in front of sell-out crowds in London every year, they are potentially paving the way for expansion further afield, taking one of America’s most watched sports and turning it into a true global spectacle.

Twitter will look to monetise the streams through advertising, although with the game already designed around a commercial model, with frequent stoppages, viewers will not see any diluted product.  Whether they can replicate the model in other sports is another question, but for now NFL fans can look forward to Thursday night football wherever they are.