Sport’s Second Screen: Twitter’s Salvation?

Deals with the NFL and other sporting bodies could pave the way for a new Twitter user base


In a rare victory over its bigger social media rivals, Twitter agreed a deal with the NFL last March to live-stream its popular Thursday night games. As the 140-character giant sees its user numbers plummet, Twitter is turning to video (particularly live streaming) in an attempt to rebuild. Facebook and other tech companies were involved in a tussle for the rights, and sports being live streamed on social media is set to become the norm.

The NFL reportedly took issue with some of the conditions of the other bids, though - Facebook, for example, had demanded full control over the advertisements that would air alongside the stream, ‘essentially cutting out the sales relationship between the NFL and marketers,’ according to sources cited by the New York Times. According to the newspaper, Twitter paid the NFL around $10 million for the rights to 10 Thursday night games, and agreed to share in the ad inventory. Its CFO, Anthony Noto, who previously worked for the NFL, said: ‘Having that live programming every night when sports are playing — with no paywall, no logging in and directly from the source — that’s key to us.’

Twitter’s been incredibly active in securing deals for live sports, with Wimbledon already live streamed and arrangements made for NHL, MLB and NBA games to be live-steamed on the site - the New York Times also claims that the MLS and PGA are also in discussions with the social media giant over potential deals. Twitter’s move is an interesting one, because it taps into two growing trends in both sports but digital more generally.

Firstly - and perhaps not immediately obvious - is that Twitter’s live-stream push is a reaction to it’s overwhelming mobile-first user base. 90% of Twitter’s video views come from mobile devices, bringing in 86% of its ad revenue from its 257 million monthly active users on mobile. Any sports fan will know that live-streaming games on a mobile device isn’t easy - sites are still optimized for desktop and pop-ups cause all manner of issues on mobile, so unless you have an expensive subscription to a broadcaster with a good mobile streaming service, it’s just not viable. If Twitter can offer mobile streaming that works as well as its Periscope client, for example, watching live sports on mobile could become a genuinely attractive (and inexpensive) option.

Secondly, and more importantly, Twitter is banking on the growth of second screen usage in sports audiences. According to Accenture, 87% of consumers use second screen devices while watching TV, and discussion on Twitter around sporting events as they’re taking place is pervasive. Twitter’s live stream combines both, with a feed of tweets related to the game placed alongside the game itself. The social media giant will be hoping that the live stream will act as a gateway for users to find the value in its primary offering, and bolster the user numbers that have shown little organic growth. Studies have shown that the second screen conversation can be more engaging than the sporting event itself and, if Twitter can encourage the casual NFL spectator to engage in discussion around the game, it may have itself a new user.

In a world in which subscription fees for traditional broadcasters have ballooned, the ability to stream live sport without paywalls or even the need for an account will be refreshing for sports fans. Thursday Night Football draws an average of 17.6 million viewers per broadcast and if Twitter can harness this - along with the viewers from their plethora of other deals - it might just be able to reverse the trend that’s seen shares more than halve since Jack Dorsey returned to the company in July last year. 

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