Is The NFL Using Twitter As A Digital Guinea Pig?

ken-wangData-Driven Thinking” is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Ken Zi Wang, founder and CEO at Traction Labs.

Twitter deserves props for closing a live-streaming partnership deal with the NFL. It beat out Facebook, Amazon and Verizon for the rights to stream the games, something any company should be proud of. But is it just a case study for the NFL’s larger digital plan?

And the deal-pothesis has some legs to stand on. Twitter has always been the go-to place for social commentary during live sporting events, and offering that on the same platform as the game itself could make for a fun viewing experience.

But there’s reason to be wary. The first red flag is the mere $10 million Twitter reportedly paid for the rights to stream the 10 Thursday night games, which is half of what Yahoo paid to stream a single game last year. Twitter is streaming the televised broadcast, which appears on either CBS or NBC, and part of the reason that number is low was Twitter’s agreement to let the networks keep control over most of the ads during the broadcast.

But $10 million is really low. To put it in context, that much money bought advertisers one minute of air time during the 2016 Super Bowl. In other words, it’s child’s play and doesn’t suggest the league has much confidence in viewers to ditch their TVs for Twitter on Thursday nights.

Then there’s the mobile issue. Eighty-five percent of time spent on Twitter is on peoples’ phones, which isn’t the ideal way to watch a football game. The company is trying to resolve this by making the Twitter app available on Apple TV, but with the majority of fans being older than 55 and only 25% having an income greater than $100,000 per year, expecting this to make a real impact on viewership seems far-fetched.

Twitter will point at the cord-cutting millennial generation to suggest the partnership could get users back onto the platform. But if there’s one thing on TV that has proven it can withstand the digital revolution, it’s football. Between 2004 and 2014, while technology was disrupting taxis, hotels and most of television, viewership of NFL TV broadcasts grew 25%.

This isn’t to say I don’t like what Twitter and the NFL are doing. At the end of the day, having Thursday Night Football games available for free online just gives more people access to it and that’s a good thing.

Some have called live streaming sports a “Hail Mary” for Twitter. Touting this partnership as something transformative or suggesting it is the knockout punch in digital’s takedown of traditional media, however, gives the involved parties a bit too much credit.

Follow Traction Labs (@TractionLabsInc) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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