The National Football League (NFL) recently agreed to let Twitter broadcast 10 Thursday Night Football games for the price tag of 10 million dollars. This contract is a big step for Twitter, the NFL and the modern consumer, but daunting for cable companies who have had a monopoly on sports.
Twenty years ago, cable television was thriving, but in the age of the Internet, where streaming services are at our beck-and-call, the younger generations have mostly distanced themselves from cable television. In the past, fans of every sport were universally forced to deal with cable providers, but the NFL has begun experimenting with unique avenues to broadcast its games.
The NFL’s groundbreaking deal with Twitter will usher in a new way for fans to enjoy their sports experience. The free streaming model will remove the hassle of dealing with pesky cable companies, and simultaneously remove the large barrier to entry associated with purchasing a cable plan just to watch sports, which will attract fans who previously could not afford to watch the NFL or other professional sports.
It will likely be an all-around cheaper and easier process for consumers who want to watch on the internet, while keeping the same easy system for fans who wish to watch on their television.
The prospect of sports being streamed for free all but sells itself to viewers, so it comes with no surprise that fans would flock to this new system. The major issue with this medium is monetization, not viewer counts. The free-streaming medium is plagued with issues like the free-rider problem and the large opportunity cost associated with moving away from lucrative contracts with cable companies.
The latter is the largest concern with transitioning to the Internet and is probably the biggest reason why the National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB) and National Hockey League (NHL) are all shying away from streaming content online for free. The NBA has taken minor steps toward divorcing itself from cable by offering NBA League Pass (a service that allows customers to purchase streaming access to a given game, team or season), but this still puts a dent in the wallet of users.
With that in mind, the NFL shouldering this risk may spur a monumental change in the way sports are consumed. If the NFL is successful in its endeavors, then it may prove to other leagues that this is a profitable change. Furthermore, this may entice other leagues to offer up their content and create a consumer friendly market.
The NFL is the first in the sports industry to entertain the free streaming model, but this medium is not totally unprecedented. Many popular video games routinely stream their content for free on various websites such as Twitch TV. Riot Gaming’s League of Legends garnered a peak viewership of fourteen million concurrent viewers during its world championships. While this is not quite on the scale of the NFL, it does offer us some insight on how popular free streaming is and how much it could potentially boost the viewership of sports.
This influx in popularity is also alluring and mutually beneficial for Twitter. Twitter and other social media sites have been looking for new ways to expand their user base. Offering football as an added benefit to their platform will definitely attract new users to Twitter while also obtaining new viewers for the NFL.
In the same vein, social media platforms are always vying for power, and they all are constantly searching for something to distinguish themselves from one another. This acquisition has transformed Twitter into something unique, the home of Thursday Night Football, and thus is extremely advantageous for Twitter in its struggle for dominance.
Twitter is by nature one of the most ephemeral social media platforms (because of its character limit and tendency to focus on trending issues), so being able to offer exclusive, lasting content for its members is a massive step forward.
The NFL and Twitter can profit considerably from this venture, but we should not expect a quick transition because of the tremendous risk associated with moving away from the status quo. If this deals proves profitable, this could spell the end of cable’s stranglehold on sports and start a new era of watching sports conveniently from your computer.