Wednesday, April 6, 2016

NFL to bring Thursday night football to live stream on Twitter

The news that the NFL is partnering with Twitter to live-stream 10 Thursday night games this season is important to the league for two reasons: 1) It’s part of a continuing effort by the league to reel in young viewers who do not have cable or satellite TV; 2) And it’s a way to increase the interest of fans who like to use social media while watching games; now those viewers will only need one screen—say, a laptop or a smartphone—to both watch the games and interact on Twitter.

It’s important to you for one reason: If you like Twitter, you’ll be able to watch a game and use Twitter to interact with informed people (and maybe some extreme die hards) on the same screen.

“The change of demographics with young people in this country was a big factor driving this decision,” Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s executive vice president of media, told me Tuesday after the partnership with Twitter for the 2016 season was announced. “How young people consume content—oftentimes digitally, on their terms—is becoming really important.” He was referring to the so-called “cord-cutters,” those people who choose not to pay for cable but rather experience TV in other ways, like via Apple TV or Roku.

It’s not only young people that the NFL targeted with this move. It’s the way middle-aged and older fans consume the game too. Rolapp said seven of 10 fans who watch NFL games on television use another screen—laptop or tablet or smartphone—at some point while watching. This was the most interesting thing I thought Rolapp said: If you’ve got a laptop open and want to stream the game, you’ll have the option of watching the game on the full screen, the way the NFL did last fall on the Jacksonville-Buffalo Yahoo Sports streaming experiment, or as part of a dual screen—watching the game on part of it, and using Twitter on the other part of the screen.

Rolapp said the NFL didn’t take the highest bid from social-media companies that wanted to be the NFL’s 2016 live-streaming partner. “What was more important than the highest economic bid to us,” Rolapp said, “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.”

Also Tuesday, Twitter CFO Anthony Noto told me consumers using a smartphone to watch the game on the smaller screen will have the option to click and open a stream of Tweets from commentators, other media people or their own friends to follow the game.

These 10 Thursday games also will be available on network TV (five are NBC-based games, five CBS) and on NFL Network as well as Twitter. The NFL is calling the 10 games “tri-casts.” Rolapp said it’s undetermined whether the two major networks will be allowed to stream the games on their own websites. If that happens, it would be an unprecedented fourth way to watch. Whatever the case, it’s a new experience, the NFL’s attempt to stay attuned to the way people watch football games today.

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