Twitter shook the tech press (some of its most loyal users and followers) last year when it announced it had purchased the digital streaming rights — beating out Facebook, Amazon, and Yahoo — for 10 games of NFL Thursday Night Football games.
The general reaction at the time could be summed up as: “Really… Twitter?”
The platform for sharing news articles, funny Vines (RIP) and following trends about One Direction had just beaten out tech giants for some of TV’s most lucrative rights? Well, it turned out pretty awesome (at least, concept wise) and now live video has become a pillar of Twitter’s core offerings, with the company appearing to be betting big on this content as part of the company’s future.
This year, the tech press were shook yet again, but this time for quite different reasons. Twitter lost out to Amazon for this season’s rights, raising the age-old question: Is it the end of Twitter?
Twitter, for sure, doesn’t want you to believe so. In a statement shared after the Amazon-NFL news was leaked, Twitter offered up new statistics that emphasized how much live video they’ve done beyond football:
Since last year, we have collaborated on over 40 live stream partnerships and we will continue to bring the best live content to our customers around the world.
In Q1 2017, we aired more than 800 hours of live stream content from over 400 events across sports, news, politics and entertainment.
The NFL was a great partner to launch our strategy and we will continue to work with them to bring great content to our passionate sports fans.
Twitter’s push into live sports remains a silver lining (though it was far shinier before Amazon won the NFL deal) on what has been a brutal two-year stretch. The company has endured stagnating user growth, difficulties generating income, executive departures, growing concern about its part-time CEO Jack Dorsey, and investors who aren’t terribly convinced that better days are ahead.
Below, Twitter’s stock chart since going public in 2013 highlights how it’s shares remain at an all-time low.
Live video stands out as Twitter’s biggest bet that it can turn things around.
For Twitter, the NFL was only a small chunk of their live video offering: about 3 hours per game, 10 games, so 30 hours of content all between September and December of 2016. Now, in the first three months of 2017, Twitter is reporting that the site is streaming more than 800 hours of content.
Twitter declined to reveal its viewership numbers and break down its revenue, but we do know that outlets — from publishers (like Bloomberg and Mashable), sports leagues (like Major League Baseball) and entertainment studios (like red carpets) are still interested in inking deals with Twitter.
The NFL, while a pride and joy of sports fans, was just the first step to a greater push for Twitter. “Maybe not quite a touchdown, but Twitter showed it could move the ball,” I wrote in my review of the first game on Twitter.
“It’s not surprising. Their name wasn’t referenced [in any early reports], but anything involving the NFL makes sense for Twitter,” Brian Wieser, senior analyst of advertising, media and internet at Pivotal Research Group, told me and my former colleague last year.
Wieser noted Twitter’s previous partnerships with American sports leagues like the NHL and NFL. Twitter had signed a two-year deal to share videos, GIFs and infographics of in-game highlights and next-day recaps in August 2016, which therefore still applies this season.
Landing the NFL again would have been great for Twitter, proving that their model was sound enough that the league wanted back in. Last year Twitter snagged the games for $10 million; this year, Amazon dropped $50 million.
For the NFL, picking Amazon — and not Twitter — helps them play the field. They already know that Twitter users love football, regardless of whether there’s football on there or not. Now, they get to find out if Amazon Prime users feel similarly and perhaps if they want to buy merchandise or make other purchases during the game. And Amazon gets to find find out if some Prime holdouts can be wooed with high-end live sports.
Still, Twitter continues to compete with the tech giants: Verizon (AOL, Yahoo), Facebook, Google, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. Twitter is seeking to hire a head of live sports, and so is Facebook, in a nearly identical position.
So NFL live video is out for Twitter, but there could be a lot to come. Twitter is hosting its first-ever NewFront in May, where digital publishers host annual gatherings for advertising in hopes for them to sponsor a new lineup of shows.
NFL is gone, but we, the Twitter users, and CEO Jack Dorsey can hope that there’s more to come.
If Twitter cannot manage to capture more on its own, perhaps its time to open up the books. As of Wednesday morning, Twitter’s market capitalization was $10.6 billion. Amazon’s is $432 billion.