Unless you are a fan of Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills, you likely enjoyed Twitter’s first live-streaming of an NFL game.
Last April the social media company beat out other tech rivals for the rights to live-stream NFL games on Thursday nights —and Thursday night's user experience gives Twitter a solid foundation to build on. (They were also aided by a competitive and entertaining game—a 37–31 Jets win.)
Anecdotally via Twitter users, and based on my own user experience, the picture quality of the game stream was excellent. I watched the game on my Mac laptop and iPhone and it was similar to HD television—very sharp, great audio. (IPad users really seemed to have a great experience.) I did have some buffering issues at times but it’s always tough to know whether that’s on your end or an issue with Twitter. The Twitter broadcast was about a play or two (maybe 40-45 seconds for me) behind the television coverage (the game aired on CBS and was simulcast on the NFL Network.)
The biggest issue—and this was shared by many on Twitter—was that users could not opt out of Twitter’s curated tweet stream. If you wanted to see your feed during the game, you had to open a new window or click away from the game. The customized tweets Twitter provided were a jumbled, never-ending mess. Users need to have an option to customize what tweets they want to see. That should be an ASAP fix for Twitter’s engineers.
The cost for Twitter to stream the games was a pittance compared to what the broadcast and cable networks pay for the product. Twitter paid around $10 million to stream 10 Thursday Night Football games while CBS and NBC each paid about $45 million for each TNF game. The Wall Street Journal reported Twitter was selling ad packages for all 10 games (and outside the games) ranging from $1 million to $8 million.
From the NFL perspective, it’s easy to see why they partnered with Twitter. The league has an existing business relationship with the company and knows that it often owns real-time conversation on sports events. Twitter also offers a global audience to expand the NFL brand (the live-steam was not available in NFL-popular Canada, though, as TNF holder Rogers blocked the game.) There’s really no downside for the league. The NFL has already sold the rights to Thursday Night Football to broadcast (NBC/CBS), cable (NFL Network), and audio outlets.
For Twitter, it’s an opportunity to recalibrate as a mainstream Internet destination with user growth stagnant and the stock price tumbling. The game was available on Twitter.com, Twitter's mobile app, as well as set-top box apps for Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and Xbox One. You did not need a Twitter account to watch.
As we saw with last year’s Yahoo live-streaming game of the Bills and Jaguars, the NFL is destined to offer an online-only package to complement its current broadcast and cable TV deals. Last night was another step in that direction.
(Editor's Note: Time Inc. sites SI.com and TIME.com partnered with Twitter to simulcast its live streaming of NFL Thursday Night Football for 10 games this season on their respective digital platforms.)